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Species plantarum

exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systema sexuale digestas

Caroli Linnæi (Carl von Linné)  (1707-1778)


1,200 pages

two volumes (volume one issued 24 May 1753, volume two 16 August 1753); describing over 7,300 species

Laurentii Salvii (Lars Salvius) • 1753

A work in two volumes in which Carl von Linné, or Carl Linnaeus as he is generally known today, described all known (by him) plant species.  The first edition was published with the full title Species Plantarum, exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systematic sexuale digestas by Stockholm publisher Lars Salvius (latinized as Laurentii Salvii).  It is dedicated to "Stormagtigste Allernågigste King and Queen Adolph Frideric, Lovisa Ulrika, Sweden, Göthes and Vendes King and Queen".  The first volume of the first edition includes eleven unnumbered pages and pages 1-560, while the second volume covers pages 561-1200.

Contrary to many who state that he 'invented' binomial nomenclature, Linnaeus' approach represented setting limits on nomeclature — ONLY two terms, instead of the stream of 2 or more descriptive qualifications in common use at the time.  His limit was seen as too strict and was not welcome by many of his contemporaries:

My dear friend, we that admire you are much concerned that you should perplex the delightful science of Botany with changing names that have been well received, and adding new names quite unknown to us.  Thus, Botany, which was a pleasant study and attainable by most men, is now become, by alterations and new names, the study of a man's life, and none now but real professors can pretend to attain it.

Quaker merchant Peter Collinson wrote on 20 April 1754

His method of 'sexual' classification — based upon floral characteristics, such as number of anthers — was found repugnant, arbitrary and 'unnatural'.  The significance of inheritance was not fully appreciated at this time in history.  Linneaus actually enticipated the concept of evolution, feeling that species was not fixed (i.e. created by God at the creation of the world and unchanging for all time).  He believed that many species had come into being after creation through cross-breeding and were still changing in his day through the same means.

It is perhaps the greatest tribute to Linneaus that in spite of his intent to lead the world of science where it did not wish to go, he never-the-less was able to communicate and collaborate with so many other scientists throughout Europe, many of whom helped him by sending him (pressed and dried) plant specimens from their diverse regional floras.  As early as 1733, Linnaeus mentions to collegues his intention to write Species Plantarum, which he began soon after, showing that the project took almost 20 years to complete.

At the International Botanical Congresses of Vienna in 1905 and Brussels in 1910 established the publication of Species Plantarum as the starting point for the naming of many plant groups (except mushrooms), making 1753 the earliest valid publish date for botanical names.

Seán O'Hara

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