Development Of The Binomial System Of Nomenclature

The first person known to attempt to organize and classify plants was Theophrastus, the brilliant student of Aristotle and Plato. His 4th-century B.C. classification of nearly 500 plants into trees, shrubs, and herbs, along with his distinctions between plants on the basis of leaf characteristics, was

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Binomial Nomenclature Plants
Figure 16.1 Plantain (Plantago major). These plants have at least 300 different common names

used for hundreds of years. It was not until the 13th century a.d. that a distinction was made between monocots and dicots on the basis of stem structure.

After this, herbalists of the period added many plants to Theophrastus's list, and by the beginning of the 18th century, details of fruit and flower structure, in addition to form and habit, were used in classification schemes. European scholarly institutions were beginning to bulge with thousands of plants that explorers had brought back from around the world, and confusion over scientific and common names was multiplying.

The use of Latin in schools and universities had become widespread, and it was then customary to use descriptive Latin phrase names for both plants and animals. All organisms were grouped into genera (singular: genus), with the first word of the Latin phrase indicating the particular genus to which the organisms belonged. For example, all known mints were given phrase names (polynomials) beginning with the word Mentha, the name of the genus. Likewise, the phrases for lupines began with Lupinus, and those for poplars began with Populus. A complete phrase name for spearmint read Mentha floribus spi-catis, foliis oblongis serratis. Roughly translated, it means "Mentha with flowers in a spike (an elongated but compact flower cluster); leaves oblong, saw-toothed." A phrase name for the closely related peppermint read Mentha floribus capita-tus, foliis lanceolatis serratis, which means "leaves lance-shaped, saw-toothed, with very short petioles."

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