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History of Plants and their Classifications
October 04, 2013

Welcome to the Flying Butterfly!

Outside of my own gardening experience, while reading and researching
I often come upon Carl Linnaeus and plant classification. I've been wanting to revisit this subject matter and thought you may want to be reminded of what we learned as kids in school. This will build over time, but let's start with the history of plant classification.





All living organisms come in the form of animal or plant life.
The main characteristic differing plants from animals is that most plants have the ability to manufacture their own food through one or more of:

  • Photosynthesis through the sun’s energy.

  • The presence of chlorophyll which is responsible for the green coloring matter in leaves and plants.

  • Cellulose, an inert (motionless) carbohydrate which is the chief constituent of a plant’s cell walls.

  • Fixed locations within the soil and environment.


Some examples include:

  • Lower forms of plant life like molds and fungi lack chlorophyll and can’t produce their own food. They survive by living off of other plants. Similar to this is the love vine.

  • Other plants are carnivorous ingesting insects. Many of these
    same plants rely on being in a fixed location.


Plants are literally vital to all animal life on earth.


Plants provide oxygen for animals. Plants are also a main staple food for many forms of life, meat eaters and not.

The history of plants, however, was actually aligned with the early stages understanding them more for their medicinal properties, magical powers, myth and poetry. Don’t disregard this early history considering drugs like quinine and morphine were developed from these medicinal properties.


The first known botanist goes back to c.372-c.287 BC. Ancient Greek philosopher and student to Aristotle, Theophrastus, categorized and divided plants into Trees, Bushes and Herbs. Botany is the branch of biology that deals with all aspects of plant life. In the first century AD plants became seen for more serious medical virtues.


Throughout the 1500’s botanists continued to create a better systematized classification of plants. This was due to the invention of printing where, through publications, botanists could come together with their different discoveries. Major writings of influence during this time
were by German botanist, Otto Brunfels, writing about herbals, while
two other authors took a different route. These two authors were Hieronymus Bock with his book Materia Medica and Leonhard Fuchs writing of a glossary of technical terms of botany.


From this came greater accuracy in plant descriptions, developing into taxonomy. Taxonomy is the organization of animal and plant classification according to natural (inter)relationships.

The timeline developing taxonomy includes:

  • Writing De Plantis, author and botanist Adrea Cesalpino divided just over 1500 plants into 15 classes.

  • Now into the 1600’s, English naturalist John Ray separated flowering and non-flowering plants identifying:

      1) Dicots, or Dicotyledons, which seed contains an embryo
      with two seed-leaves. Dicots have broad leaves with veins that branch out forming a network.

      2) Monocots, or monocotyledons, which the seed contains an embryo with one seed-leaf. Monocots have narrow leaves with veins that run parallel to leaf.


  • The beginning of Linnaean taxonomy.


    In the 1700’s came a noted Swedish botanist Karl von Linne, known more by his Latin name Carolus Linnaeus, now considered the father of modern day taxonomy.


    Linnaeus founded a temporary classification system based on the reproductive organs of flowers and
    their individual characteristics of stamens and pistils.


    After this Linnaeus universally contributed plant names, known as nomenclature, with a two part naming system - Genus and Species. Genus and species is known as binomial method. Include plant names with this and the term is binomial nomenclature.


  • Logical arrangements from Ray and Linnaeus systems were advanced by botanist professor Antoine de Jussieu.

  • Augustin de Candolle showed the study of natural plant affinities is found studying morphology and not physiology.



  • The most famous influence was by English naturalist Charles Darwin.
    In 1859 he wrote Darwins theory
    of evolution and the origin of species by natural selection
    .


    In short, systematics and evolution combined with identification and classification has become the standard for taxonomists today
    when identifying new species.





As always Flying Butterfly issues will rotate around.
The next chapter of understanding plant classifications will come in time.




Until next time, Happy Holloween!


Elizabeth @ Easy Butterfly Garden



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