At this point, the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778; Fig. 16.2) began improving the way organisms were named and classified. The system he established worked so well that it has persisted to the present. In fact, Linnaeus's system is now used throughout the entire world.
Linnaeus, who was nicknamed the "Little Botanist" at school, inherited his passion for plants from his father, who was a minister and an amateur gardener. He is said to have been much impressed at the age of four by his father's remarks about the uses of neighborhood plants in his home community of Rashult, located in southern Sweden. After a brief tenure as a student at the University of Lund, he spent most of his time making excursions to Lapland, Holland, France, and Germany. Eventually, he became the professor of botany and medicine at Uppsala, where he inspired large numbers of students, 23 of whom became professors themselves. He frequently led large field trips into the countryside, accompanied by a musical band.
When Linnaeus began his work, he set out to classify all known plants and animals according to their genera. In 1753, he published a two-volume work entitled Species Plantarum, which was later to become the most important of all works on plant names and classification. In this work, he not only included a referenced list of all the Latin phrase names previously given to the plants, but, when
necessary, he also changed some of the phrases to reflect relationships, placing one to many specific kinds of organisms called species1 in each genus. He limited each Latin phrase to a maximum of 12 words, and in the margin next to the phrase, he listed a single word, which, when combined with the generic name, formed a convenient abbreviated designation for the species. The word in the margin for spearmint was spicata, and the word for peppermint was piperita. Accordingly, the abbreviated name for spearmint was Mentha spicata and for peppermint, Mentha piperita.
Although Linnaeus originally considered the phrase names the official names of the plants, he and those who followed him eventually replaced all the phrase names with abbreviated ones.
Because of their two parts, these abbreviated names became known as binomials, and the method of naming became known as the Binomial System of Nomenclature. Today, all species of organisms are named according to this system, which also includes the authority for the name, either in abbreviated form or in full, after the Latin name. For example, the full scientific name for spearmint is written Mentha spicata L., the L. standing for Linnaeus; the full scientific name for the wild dandelion native to Scandinavia is written Taraxacum officinale Wiggers, after Fredericus Henricus Wiggers, who was the first (in his Flora of Holstein, published in 1780) to describe the species.
Besides establishing the Binomial System of Nomenclature, Linnaeus tried to do more than publish just a long list of plant names. After all, such lists aren't very useful if they can't be used to identify the plants concerned. Linnaeus organized all known plants into 24 classes,2 which were based mainly on the number of stamens (pollen-bearing structures) in flowers. All plants with five stamens per flower, for example, were placed in one class, while those with six stamens were placed in another class. Plants and other organisms that don't produce flowers (e.g., mosses, fungi) were put in a class of their own. His arrangement was for convenience and was artificial because it did not necessarily reflect natural relationships. For the first time, however, it became possible for workers to identify plants previously unknown to them. This classification was used in Species Plantarum and other works by Linnaeus (Fig. 16.3), and for a short period of time was adopted by some, but not all, botanists.
1. As noted in Chapter 15, species is like the word sheep in that it is spelled and pronounced the same in either singular or plural usage. There is no such thing as a plant or animal "specie." Since Linnaeus's time, a species has been defined as "a population of individuals of common form, structure, and ancestry capable of freely interbreeding in nature but not generally interbreeding with individuals of other dissimilar populations."
2. Note that Linnaeus used the word class for a strictly artificial category of classification, resulting in unrelated organisms being grouped together simply for convenience. Modern use of the word differs from that of Linnaeus in that organisms are now assigned to a class on the basis of natural relationships.
Was this article helpful?
This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.