Order from Chaos: Linnaeus Disposes

Linnaeus goes global

Early dissemination of Linnaeus’ ideas was in part due to enthusiastic students such as Kalm and Thunberg, whose scientific writings and collections were known throughout the world, as well as to others who adopted his ideas. The importance of Linnaeus’ innovative system lay in its ease of adoption. Not only was his classification system taken up by naturalists en masse, but also his nomenclatural system allowed scientific naming to happen globally — so, for example, Sir Joseph Banks could return from Australia with a new flora well underway, and rural European and native non-European naturalists could begin cataloging their local plants. Sessé and Mociño carried a Spanish translation of Linnaeus’ works with them on their voyage to New Spain, enabling them to effectively name the New World plants they collected, such as those represented in the drawings that flank this panel. Linnaeus' ideas were even used retrospectively, as shown in the work of Kurt Sprengel, who applied the Linnaean system to previous plant literature, from ancient through contemporary times.

Kurt Polycarp Joachim Sprengel (1766–1833). … Historia Rei Herbariae (Amsterdam, 1807–1808, pp. 184–185, 266–267).
The German botanist, doctor and philologist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833), the author of a monumental history of botany (Historia Rei Herbariae), also published a critical edition of Dioscorides’ Greek text (2 vols., 1829–1830). In the latter, he applied to Dioscorides’ text the method of the German school of philology, aiming to recover the original contents of the ancient text by eliminating as much as possible the mistakes, additions and other transformations introduced into the texts over time through their handwritten reproduction. In the Historia Rei Herbariae, Sprengel examined earlier writings on plants in light of Linnaeus’ ideas. (See pp. 184–185, top left.)

Sprengel had a strong historical interest in the discovery, naming and description of plants. In his Historia Rei Herbariae, he was the first to systematically and retrospectively study earlier writings on plants, from those of the ancients up to those of his contemporaries, and to try to reassess the plants described in terms of the Linnaean system. Sources studied included works in Greek, Latin and Arabic. (See pp. 266–267, bottom left.)

(see this image enlarged)

(see this image enlarged)
Within ten years of Linnaeus’ death, an expedition was sent by Charles III, King of Spain, to New Spain (Mexico, the Caribbean, Baja California and Alaska). The Royal Botanical Expedition to New Spain (1787–1803) was under the command of Martin de Sessé y Lacasta (1751–1808) and José Mariano Mociño (1757–1820). In the early 1800s many of the drawings from the expedition ended up in Geneva, where the eminent botanist A. P. de Candolle (1778–1841) annotated many of them with binomials. It was not until the latter part of the century that the working manuscripts of these botanists were published.

Bignonia cobaeflora [Disticlis laxiflora (DC) Greenm.], watercolor from Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations.

Pothos scolopendria [Anthurium schlechtendalii Kunth], watercolor from Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778). Parte Prática de Botánica del Cabellero Cárlos Linneo, que Comprehende las Clases, Órdenes, Géneros, Especies y Variedades de las Plantas …, traducida del Latin en Castellano é Ilustrada por Don Antonio Paláu y Verdéra (Madrid, 1784–1788).

Naming plants is of such international importance that it is now regulated by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, which directs the procedures to be followed for determining or selecting the name of a particular plant. These terms were first fixed by Linnaeus. In a letter to Haller in 1737 Linnaeus wrote: "If you were to collect all the generic names that have been changed from the time of Tournefort to this present day, they would exceed a thousand, though insensibly introduced. What is the cause of all this innovation: I can perceive no other, than there having been no laws laid down, by which names could either be made or defended."

The global goals of Linnaeus’ early classifying work also lives on in taxonomic projects such as Flora of North America and Species Plantarum. Flora of North America provides information on the names, taxonomic relationships, continent-wide distributions, and morphological characteristics of all plants found in North America north of Mexico. A broader project is Species Plantarum: Flora of the World, a long-term project undertaken by the International Organization of Plant Information to record essential taxonomic information on vascular plants worldwide. It includes accepted names and synonyms with places of publication and types, short descriptions of all taxa from family to infraspecific rank, keys, distributions, references to literature comments, etc.

As established by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, to be considered valid, the name of an organism must be published and its description based on a specimen, if possible. In the absence of a preserved specimen, the species may be typified by a description or a figure.

Casearia dentata [Casearia dentata DC.], watercolor from Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations.

This drawing is the holotype of the name Casearia dentata. "A holotype is the one specimen or other element used by the author of the name, or designated by him, as the nomenclatural type (i.e., the element to which the name of the taxon is permanently attached)." (International Code of Botanical Nomenclature)

Sol[anum] mozinianum [Lycianthes moziniana (Dun.) Bitt.], watercolor from Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations.
This drawing has been designated as the lectotype of the name Solanum mozinianum Dunal. "A lectotype is a specimen or other element selected from the original material to serve as the nomenclatural type, when the holotype was not designated at the time of publication, or when the holotype is missing." (International Code of Botanical Nomenclature)