King David Came Over For Great Species

Jul 13, 2020 | Tips & Ideas

Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish Botanist (1707-1778)


By Kate Shadock – SEMG 2018

Master Gardener’s recognize this headline as the mnemonic technique to encode the hierarchical order of scientific plant identification, also known as taxonomy. Modern taxonomy ranks are kingdom, division*, class, order, family, genus, species.


The development of sophisticated optical lenses allowed organisms to be extensively studied. Andrea Cesalpino (Italy 1519-1602) published De Plantis (1583) that described more than 1500 plant species. He first recognized two large plant families, still in use today, Asteraceae and Brassicaceae

Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish Botanist (1707-1778) revolutionized modern taxonomy. He implemented a standardized binomial naming system for plant and animal species. The first word describes the genus and the second word describes a characteristic of the specific organism. For example, Magnolia grandiflora describes the native southern magnolia with large white flowers. The Latin binomial name is consistent across the globe. Linnaeus also introduced the standard of class, order, genus, and species.


Many gardeners prefer using the common name for plants as it’s “easier”. Easier can lead to confusion, especially with instant global communications. The European white-water lily, Nymphaea alba, for example, has 15 different common names in English, 44 common names in French, 105 common names in German and 81 common names in Dutch. It’s much easier to learn Nymphaea alba than the combined 245 names in other languages.

Taxonomy is even more important when it comes to something that might, or might not, be edible. The Florida pistachio sold at the local nursery could be a Pistacia vera, with edible nuts, or it might be a Jatropha curcus (Barbados nut) with highly poisonous nuts. Since both are sold with the same Florida pistachio label the “easy” name could be tragic.


The term clade was first introduced in 1958. In July 2004 systemic and evolutionary biologists from 11 nations met to create a new association, the International Society for Phylogenetic Nomenclature, known as the PhyloCode for short. Their purpose is specifically designed to regulate the naming of clades. To learn more about PhyloCode, click here. Essentially. The PhyloCode does not require the use of ranks. If you’ve recently looked up a flower, the Hibiscus syriacus, for example you might be surprised by the taxonomy displayed. Note: Space requires three columns, rather than one.

Kingdom Plantae Clade Eudocots Family Malvaceae
Clade Tracheophytes Clade Rosids Genus Hibiscus
Clade Angiosperms Order Malvales Species H. syriacus

*Taxonomy ranks may show as Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, Species. Phylum and Division are both taxonomic levels below kingdom and above class. Phylum is the classification level of the animal kingdom. Division is the alternative classification level in