Plant taxonomy

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Plant taxonomy is the science that finds, identifies, describes, classifies, and names plants. It is one of the main branches of taxonomy (the science that finds, describes, classifies, and names living things).


Plant taxonomy is closely allied to plant systematics, and there is no sharp boundary between the two. In practice, "plant systematics" involves relationships between plants and their evolution, especially at the higher levels, whereas "plant taxonomy" deals with the actual handling of plant specimens. The precise relationship between taxonomy and systematics, however, has changed along with the goals and methods employed.

Plant taxonomy is well known for being turbulent, and traditionally not having any close agreement on circumscription and placement of taxa. See the list of systems of plant taxonomy.


Classification systems serve the purpose of grouping organisms by characteristics common to each group. Plants are distinguished from animals by various traits: they have cell walls made of cellulose, polyploidy, and they exhibit sedentary growth. Where animals have to eat organic molecules, plants are able to change energy from light into organic energy by the process of photosynthesis. The basic unit of classification is species, a group able to breed amongst themselves and bearing mutual resemblance, a broader classification is the genus. Several genera make up a family, and several families an order. [1]

History of classification

From 1736, an illustration of Linnaean classification Ehret-Methodus Plantarum Sexualis.jpg
From 1736, an illustration of Linnaean classification

The botanical term "angiosperm", from Greek words angeíon ( ἀγγεῖον 'bottle, vessel') and spérma ( σπέρμα 'seed'), was coined in the form "Angiospermae" by Paul Hermann in 1690 but he used this term to refer to a group of plants which form only a subset of what today are known as angiosperms. Hermannn's Angiospermae including only flowering plants possessing seeds enclosed in capsules, distinguished from his Gymnospermae, which were flowering plants with achenial or schizo-carpic fruits, the whole fruit or each of its pieces being here regarded as a seed and naked. The terms Angiospermae and Gymnospermae were used by Carl Linnaeus with the same sense, but with restricted application, in the names of the orders of his class Didynamia. [2]

The terms angiosperms and gymnosperm fundamentally changed in meaning in 1827 when Robert Brown established the existence of truly naked ovules in the Cycadeae and Coniferae. [3] The term gymnosperm was from then on applied to seed plants with naked ovules, and the term angiosperm to seed plants with enclosed ovules. However, for many years after Brown's discovery, the primary division of the seed plants was seen as between monocots and dicots, with gymnosperms as a small subset of the dicots. [4]

In 1851, Hofmeister discovered the changes occurring in the embryo-sac of flowering plants, and determined the correct relationships of these to the Cryptogamia. This fixed the position of Gymnosperms as a class distinct from Dicotyledons, and the term Angiosperm then gradually came to be accepted as the suitable designation for the whole of the flowering plants other than Gymnosperms, including the classes of Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons. [4] This is the sense in which the term is used today. [5]

In most taxonomies, the flowering plants are treated as a coherent group. The most popular descriptive name has been Angiospermae, with Anthophyta (lit. 'flower-plants') a second choice (both unranked). The Wettstein system and Engler system treated them as a subdivision (Angiospermae). The Reveal system also treated them as a subdivision (Magnoliophytina), [6] but later split it to Magnoliopsida, Liliopsida, and Rosopsida. The Takhtajan system and Cronquist system treat them as a division (Magnoliophyta).[ citation needed ] The Dahlgren system and Thorne system (1992) treat them as a class (Magnoliopsida). The APG system of 1998, and the later 2003 [7] and 2009 [8] revisions, treat the flowering plants as an unranked clade without a formal Latin name (angiosperms). A formal classification was published alongside the 2009 revision in which the flowering plants rank as a subclass (Magnoliidae). [9]

The internal classification of this group has undergone considerable revision. The Cronquist system, proposed by Arthur Cronquist in 1968 and published in its full form in 1981, is still widely used but is no longer believed to accurately reflect phylogeny. A consensus about how the flowering plants should be arranged has recently begun to emerge through the work of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG), which published an influential reclassification of the angiosperms in 1998. Updates incorporating more recent research were published as the APG II system in 2003, [7] the APG III system in 2009, [8] [10] and the APG IV system in 2016.

Traditionally, the flowering plants are divided into two groups,

to which the Cronquist system ascribes the classes Magnoliopsida (from "Magnoliaceae") and Liliopsida (from "Liliaceae"). Other descriptive names allowed by Article 16 of the ICBN include Dicotyledones or Dicotyledoneae, and Monocotyledones or Monocotyledoneae, which have a long history of use. In plain English, their members may be called "dicotyledons" ("dicots") and "monocotyledons" ("monocots"). The Latin behind these names refers the observation that the dicots most often have two cotyledons, or embryonic leaves, within each seed. The monocots usually have only one, but the rule is not absolute either way. From a broad diagnostic point of view, the number of cotyledons is neither a particularly handy, nor a reliable character.[ citation needed ]

Recent studies, as by the APG, show that the monocots form a monophyletic group (a clade) but that the dicots are paraphyletic. Nevertheless, the majority of dicot species fall into a clade, the eudicots or tricolpates, and most of the remaining fall into another major clade, the magnoliids, containing about 9,000 species. The rest include a paraphyletic grouping of early branching taxa known collectively as the basal angiosperms, plus the families Ceratophyllaceae and Chloranthaceae.[ citation needed ]

Plantae, the Plant Kingdom

The plant kingdom is divided according to the following:

Bryophyta MossesNo vascular system, distinctive vegetative structures, spores produced for reproduction require damp conditions for survival, many mosses are important to the early stages of soil formation
Hepatophyta LiverwortsSame as mosses
Anthocerotophyta HornwortsAlso a member of Bryophyta
Equisetophyta HorsetailsIdentifiable root, leaf and stem systems but still produce spores instead of seed
Pteridophyta FernsSame as horsetails
Coniferophyta ConifersIncludes Pinales, Taxales, Cupressaceae and hundreds of other species. Reproduce by producing seeds most often in cones, many have adaptations to tolerate water loss
Ginkgophyta GinkgoOnly member is the ginkgo biloba
Angiosperms Flowering plantsIncludes around 25,000 species divided into two main classes the monocotyledons and dicotyledons, produce seeds that are protected by fruits

Identification, classification and description of plants

Three goals of plant taxonomy are the identification, classification and description of plants. The distinction between these three goals is important and often overlooked.

Plant identification is a determination of the identity of an unknown plant by comparison with previously collected specimens or with the aid of books or identification manuals. The process of identification connects the specimen with a published name. Once a plant specimen has been identified, its name and properties are known.

Plant classification is the placing of known plants into groups or categories to show some relationship. Scientific classification follows a system of rules that standardizes the results, and groups successive categories into a hierarchy. For example, the family to which the lilies belong is classified as follows:

The classification of plants results in an organized system for the naming and cataloging of future specimens, and ideally reflects scientific ideas about inter-relationships between plants. The set of rules and recommendations for formal botanical nomenclature, including plants, is governed by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants abbreviated as ICN.

Plant description is a formal description of a newly discovered species, usually in the form of a scientific paper using ICN guidelines. The names of these plants are then registered on the International Plant Names Index along with all other validly published names.

Classification systems

These include;

Online databases

See Category: Online botany databases

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alismatales</span> Order of herbaceous flowering plants of marshy and aquatic habitats

The Alismatales (alismatids) are an order of flowering plants including about 4,500 species. Plants assigned to this order are mostly tropical or aquatic. Some grow in fresh water, some in marine habitats. Perhaps the most important food crop in the order is the corm of the taro plant, Colocasia esculenta.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arecales</span> Order of flowering plants

Arecales is an order of flowering plants. The order has been widely recognised only for the past few decades; until then, the accepted name for the order including these plants was Principes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flowering plant</span> Clade of seed plants that produce flowers

Flowering plants are plants that bear flowers and fruits, and form the clade Angiospermae, commonly called angiosperms. They include insect-pollinated herbs such as buttercups, pond plants such as water lilies, wind-pollinated grasses, and trees such as apple and oak. The term "angiosperm" is derived from the Greek words ἀγγεῖον /angeion and σπέρμα / sperma ('seed'), meaning that the seeds are enclosed within a fruit. They are by far the most diverse group of land plants with 64 orders, 416 families, approximately 13,000 known genera and 300,000 known species. Angiosperms were formerly called Magnoliophyta.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dicotyledon</span> Historical grouping of flowering plants

The dicotyledons, also known as dicots, are one of the two groups into which all the flowering plants (angiosperms) were formerly divided. The name refers to one of the typical characteristics of the group: namely, that the seed has two embryonic leaves or cotyledons. There are around 200,000 species within this group. The other group of flowering plants were called monocotyledons, typically each having one cotyledon. Historically, these two groups formed the two divisions of the flowering plants.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monocotyledon</span> Important clade of flowering plants

Monocotyledons, commonly referred to as monocots, are grass and grass-like flowering plants (angiosperms), the seeds of which typically contain only one embryonic leaf, or cotyledon. They constitute one of the major groups into which the flowering plants have traditionally been divided; the rest of the flowering plants have two cotyledons and are classified as dicotyledons, or dicots.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Magnoliopsida</span>

Magnoliopsida is a valid botanical name for a class of flowering plants. By definition the class will include the family Magnoliaceae, but its circumscription can otherwise vary, being more inclusive or less inclusive depending upon the classification system being discussed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Piperales</span> Order of flowering plants

Piperales is an order of flowering plants. It necessarily includes the family Piperaceae but other taxa have been included or disincluded variously over time. Well-known plants which may be included in this order include black pepper, kava, pepper elder, lizard's tail, birthwort, and wild ginger.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ranunculales</span> Basal order of flowering plants in the eudicots

Ranunculales is an order of flowering plants. Of necessity it contains the family Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family, because the name of the order is based on the name of a genus in that family. Ranunculales belongs to a paraphyletic group known as the basal eudicots. It is the most basal clade in this group; in other words, it is sister to the remaining eudicots. Widely known members include poppies, barberries, hellebores, and buttercups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Proteales</span> Order of eudicot flowering plants

Proteales is an order of flowering plants consisting of three families. The Proteales have been recognized by almost all taxonomists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Angiosperm Phylogeny Group</span> Collaborative research group for the classification of flowering plants

The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) is an informal international group of systematic botanists who collaborate to establish a consensus on the taxonomy of flowering plants (angiosperms) that reflects new knowledge about plant relationships discovered through phylogenetic studies.

<i>Austrobaileya</i> Species of plant

Austrobaileya is the sole genus consisting of a single species that constitutes the entire flowering plant family Austrobaileyaceae. The species Austrobaileya scandens grows naturally only in the Wet Tropics rainforests of northeastern Queensland, Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nelumbonaceae</span> Family of flowering plants

Nelumbonaceae is a family of aquatic flowering plants. Nelumbo is the sole extant genus, containing Nelumbo lutea, native to North America, and Nelumbo nucifera, widespread in Asia. At least four other genera, Nelumbites, Exnelumbites, Paleonelumbo, and Nelumbago, are known from fossils.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eudicots</span> Clade of flowering plants

The eudicots, Eudicotidae, or eudicotyledons are a clade of flowering plants mainly characterized by having two seed leaves upon germination. The term derives from Dicotyledons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schisandraceae</span> Family of flowering plants

Schisandraceae is a family of flowering plants with 3 known genera and a total of 92 known species. Such a family has been recognized by most taxonomists, at least for the past several decades. Before that, the plants concerned were assigned to family Magnoliaceae and Illiciaceae.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chloranthaceae</span> Family of flowering plants

Chloranthaceae is a family of flowering plants (angiosperms), the only family in the order Chloranthales. It is not closely related to any other family of flowering plants, and is among the early-diverging lineages in the angiosperms. They are woody or weakly woody plants occurring in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Madagascar, Central and South America, and the West Indies. The family consists of four extant genera, totalling about 77 known species according to Christenhusz and Byng in 2016. Some species are used in traditional medicine. The type genus is Chloranthus. The fossil record of the family, mostly represented by pollen such as Clavatipollenites, extends back to the dawn of the history of flowering plants in the Early Cretaceous, and has been found on all continents.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trimeniaceae</span> Family of flowering plants

Trimeniaceae is a family of flowering plants recognized by most taxonomists, at least for the past several decades. It is a small family of one genus, Trimenia, with eight known species of woody plants, bearing essential oils. The family is subtropical to tropical and found in Southeast Asia, eastern Australia and on several Pacific Islands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thurniaceae</span> Family of flowering plants

The Thurniaceae are a family of flowering plants composed of two genera with four species. The botanical name has been recognized by most taxonomists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Commelinids</span> Clade of monocot flowering plants

In plant taxonomy, commelinids is a clade of flowering plants within the monocots, distinguished by having cell walls containing ferulic acid.

<i>Butomus</i> Genus of flowering plants

Butomus is the only known genus in the plant family Butomaceae, native to Europe and Asia. It is considered invasive in some parts of the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Magnoliids</span> Clade of flowering plants

Magnoliids are a clade of flowering plants. With more than 10,000 species, including magnolias, nutmeg, bay laurel, cinnamon, avocado, black pepper, tulip tree and many others, it is the third-largest group of angiosperms after the eudicots and monocots. The group is characterized by trimerous flowers, pollen with one pore, and usually branching-veined leaves.


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  2. Chisholm 1911, p. 9.
  3. Brown, Robert (1827). "Character and description of Kingia, a new genus of plants found on the southwest coast of New Holland: with observations on the structure of its unimpregnated ovulum; and on the female flower of Cycadeae and Coniferae". In King, Philip Parker (ed.). Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia: Performed Between the Years 1818 and 1822. J. Murray. pp. 534–565. OCLC   185517977.
  4. 1 2 Buggs, Richard J.A. (January 2021). "The origin of Darwin's "abominable mystery"". American Journal of Botany. 108 (1): 22–36. doi:10.1002/ajb2.1592. PMID   33482683. S2CID   231689158.
  5. Chisholm 1911, p. 10.
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  7. 1 2 APG 2003.
  8. 1 2 APG 2009.
  9. Chase & Reveal 2009.
  10. "As easy as APG III - Scientists revise the system of classifying flowering plants" (Press release). The Linnean Society of London. 8 October 2009. Archived from the original on 26 November 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2009.