Understanding the workings of the plant classification system can help to eliminate confusion caused by using common English names for plants.
Many plants are commonly mistaken for another due to the usage of common English names. For example, there are many varieties of rose and lavender; both flowers are used as an essential oil in aromatherapy, yet the properties of a particular oil can vary, depending on the variety of lavender or rose being used.
The same is true in botany. A rose is actually more than just a rose; it may be a damask or an alba or any number of different species of rose found in gardens today. Without using the scientific plant classification, it is difficult to identify the exact species of rose or any other plant in the botanical world.
Basic Definition of Plant Classification
Classifying plants can be a difficult process as a lot of plants are inter-related and resemble each other. The introduction of hybrids can complicate things further. However, all plants are classified in an order; that is from the basic to the more complex. A plant’s botanical classification helps describe its position in the plant kingdom and how it interacts with other plants.
The botanist’s plant classification system is complicated. In basic terms, the plants are divided into twelve divisions; these are Bryophates (three divisions), Seedless Plants (four divisions), Angiosperms (one division) and Gymnosperms (four divisions). The divisions are then divided into classes, orders, families, Genera and finally species. It is the Genera (or genus) and species which give a plant its scientific classification.
The System of Plant Classification
The scientific plant classification system was invented in the eighteenth century by a Swedish botanist, Carolus Linneaus. A plant is given a binomial name, that is in two parts; it consists of genus (generic) and species. All names are in Latin and the first part of the name, the genus, is a noun; the second part of the name, the species, is an adjective which describes the genus.
The botanist who names a particular plant is represented by a letter, following the botanical name. If the plant’s botanical name is later changed, the original botanist who classified it still maintains the notification in parentheses. An example of this system is found in lavender; lavandula officinalis and lavandula latifolia are both species of lavender but the former is true lavender and the latter spike lavender.
The binomial name of a plant describes the plant. The name can relate to the common name of the plant, describe the way it looks, indicate how the plant smells or tastes, any chemicals which may be present within the plant or how the plant actually grows. It can also describe the plant’s origin and can even be named after a prominent person.
The Future of Plant Classification
There are many plants in the plant world which are still to be discovered and classified; ethnobotany is helping to advance the study of many plants and their uses. Through the study of plant classification, scientists are discovering how plants inter-relate with each other and the world around them, including the ecological implications of human behavior. Plant classification is more than defining a name; it is an important function to understanding and preserving the plants of the planet.