Josif Pančić was born on 5 April 1814 at the hamlet Ugrini near Bribir. He finished primary school in Gospić, secondary school in Rijeka and, dissatisfied with the lack of natural history content at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, left to study medicine in Pest. He grew especially fond of botany to which he dedicated all of his free time. After having lived in Vienna, in 1846 he moved to Serbia where he made his greatest achievements.
Pančić was appointed, in 1853, as a professor of natural history and agronomy at the Lyceum (as of 1863 Great School, highest educational institution in Serbia at that time) in Belgrade where he established a natural history collection, library and a natural history cabinet and he also founded a botanical garden. As a university professor, Pančić dedicated his time to scientific-research work especially in the field of botany, zoology and geology. In the scientific world he made his fame in 1875 by discovering an endemic spruce species on Tara Mountain, which species was named after him. Pančić discovered 102 and described some 2500 plant species during his long career. With his work Flora kneževine Srbije (Flora of Principality of Serbia), he placed Serbia among countries with relatively extensively researched flora.
Apart from flora, Josif Pančić also studied fauna; he discovered two species of grasshoppers, studied fish and birds, and was a predecessor of ecology in Serbia, was active in pedagogic work and wrote textbooks. He was also the originator of mountaineering in Serbia and their first mountain guide.
Pančić will also be remembered as the first president of the Serbian Royal Academy, today’s SANU. He was appointed to this position in April of 1887.
Pančić died at the beginning of 1888 and his last wish was to be buried in the Kopaonik Mountain where he had conducted much of his research. Mountaineers of Serbia and SANU fulfilled this wish in 1951, when his remains and those of his wife Mileva were buried at a mausoleum on top of Kopaonik. Since then the highest point of this mountain carries the name Pančić’s Peak.