Species Plantarum

Species Plantarum (Latin for "The Species of Plants") is a book by Carl Linnaeus, originally published in 1753, which lists every species of plant known at the time, classified into genera. It is the first work to consistently apply binomial names and was the starting point for the naming of plants.

Species Plantarum
Cover page of first edition
AuthorCarl Linnaeus
PublishedLaurentius Salvius (1 May 1753)
Media typePrint
Pagesxi, 1200 + xxxi


Species Plantarum[Note 1] was published on 1 May 1753 by Laurentius Salvius in Stockholm, in two volumes.[1][2][Note 2] A second edition was published in 1762–1763,[1] and a third edition in 1764, although this "scarcely differed" from the second.[4] Further editions were published after Linnaeus' death in 1778, under the direction of Karl Ludwig Willdenow, the director of the Berlin Botanical Garden; the fifth edition (1800) was published in four volumes.[5]


Before Species Plantarum, this plant was referred to as "Plantago foliis ovato-lanceolatis pubescentibus, spica cylindrica, scapo tereti"; Linnaeus renamed it Plantago media.

Species Plantarum was the first botanical work to consistently apply the binomial nomenclature system of naming to any large group of organisms (Linnaeus' tenth edition of Systema Naturae would apply the same technique to animals for the first time in 1758). Prior to this work, a plant species would be known by a long polynomial, such as Plantago foliis ovato-lanceolatis pubescentibus, spica cylindrica, scapo tereti (meaning "plantain with pubescent ovate-lanceolate leaves, a cylindrical spike and a terete scape")[6] or Nepeta floribus interrupte spicatis pedunculatis (meaning "Nepeta with flowers in a stalked, interrupted spike").[7] In Species Plantarum, these cumbersome names were replaced with two-part names, consisting of a single-word genus name, and a single-word specific epithet or "trivial name"; the two examples above became Plantago media and Nepeta cataria, respectively.[6][7] The use of binomial names had originally been developed as a kind of shorthand in a student project about the plants eaten by cattle.[8]

After the specific epithet, Linnaeus gave a short description of each species, and a synonymy. The descriptions were careful and terse, consisting of few words in small genera; in Glycyrrhiza, for instance, the three species (Glycyrrhiza echinata, Glycyrrhiza glabra and "Glycyrrhiza hirsuta",[Note 3] respectively) were described as "leguminibus echinatis", "leguminibus glabris" and "leguminibus hirsutis".[10]

Because it is the first work in which binomial nomenclature was consistently applied, Species Plantarum was chosen as the "starting point" for the nomenclature of most plants (the nomenclature of some non-vascular plants and all fungi uses later starting points).[6]


Species Plantarum contained descriptions of the thousands of plant species known to Linnaeus at the time. In the first edition, there were 5,940 names, from Acalypha australis to Zygophyllum spinosum.[11] In his introduction, Linnaeus estimated that there were fewer than 10,000 plant species in existence;[12] there are now thought to be around 400,000 species of flowering plants alone.[13]

The species were arranged in around a thousand genera, which were grouped into 24 classes, according to Linnaeus' sexual system of classification.[14] There are no descriptions of the genera in Species Plantarum; these are supplied in the companion volume Genera Plantarum ("the genera of plants"), the fifth edition of which was printed at a similar time to the first edition of Species Plantarum.[10] Linnaeus' sexual system is now acknowledged to be an artificial system, rather than one which accurately reflects shared ancestry,[14] but the system's simplicity made it easier for non-specialists to rapidly find the correct class, being based on simple counts of floral parts such as stigmas and stamens.[1]


  1. Its full title is Species plantarum, exhibentes plantas rite cognitas ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systema sexuale digestas.
  2. The book was actually published in two volumes, the first being on 24 May and the second on 16 August. However, for practical purposes, the dates of issue for volumes was arbitrarily set on 1 May, see Stearn, W.T. (1957), The preparation of the Species Plantarum and the introduction of binomial nomenclature, in: Species Plantarum, A Facsimile of the first edition, London, Ray Society: 72 and ICN (Melbourne Code)[3] Art. 13.4 Note 1: "The two volumes of Linnaeus' Species plantarum, ed. 1 (1753), which appeared in May and August, 1753, respectively, are treated as having been published simultaneously on 1 May 1753."
  3. Now considered a synonym of G. glabra.[9]


  1. "Carolus Linnæus, Species Plantarum, Stockholm 1762–3". Collection Highlight Summer 2007. University of Aberdeen. 2007. Archived from the original on 30 April 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  2. Winston, Judith (20 April 2012). Describing Species: Practical Taxonomic Procedure for Biologists. Columbia University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780231506656. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  3. McNeill, J.; Barrie, F.R.; Buck, W.R.; Demoulin, V.; Greuter, W.; Hawksworth, D.L.; Herendeen, P.S.; Knapp, S.; Marhold, K.; Prado, J.; Prud'homme Van Reine, W.F.; Smith, G.F.; Wiersema, J.H.; Turland, N.J. (2012). International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code) adopted by the Eighteenth International Botanical Congress Melbourne, Australia, July 2011. Vol. Regnum Vegetabile 154. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag KG. ISBN 978-3-87429-425-6.
  4. Clive A. Stace (1991). "The development of plant taxonomy". Plant Taxonomy and Biosystematics (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 17–64. ISBN 978-0-521-42785-2.
  5. V. N. Naik (1984). "A review of pre-Darwinian classification". Taxonomy of Angiosperms. Tata McGraw-Hill. pp. 9–24. ISBN 9780074517888.
  6. Katherine E. Cullen (2006). "Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778): binomial nomenclature system". Biology: The People Behind the Science. Infobase Publishing. pp. 28–43. ISBN 978-0-8160-7221-7.
  7. Roger Spencer, Rob Cross & Peter Lumley (2007). "Latin names, the binomial system and plant classification". Plant Names: a Guide to Botanical Nomenclature (3rd ed.). CSIRO Publishing. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9780643099456.
  8. Britannica Educational Publishing (2009). "Carolus Linnaeus". The 100 Most Influential Scientists of All Time. Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 93–97. ISBN 9781615300402.
  9. "Glycyrrhiza hirsuta Linnaeus". The Linnaean Plant Name Typification Project. Natural History Museum. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  10. Duane Isely (2002). "Carl Linnaeus". One Hundred and One Botanists. Purdue University Press. pp. 86–93. ISBN 9781557532831.
  11. Robert W. Kiger. "Index to Binomials Cited in the First Edition of Linnaeus' Species Plantarum". Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation. Archived from the original on 12 July 2018. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
  12. H. G. Bongard (1835). "Historical sketch of the progress of botany in Russia, from the time of Peter the Great to the present day; and on the part which the Academy has borne in the advancement of this science". Companion to the Botanical Magazine. 1: 177–186.
  13. "How many flowering plants are there in the world?". Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  14. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (2011). "Plant world". The Handy Science Answer Book. Visible Ink Press. pp. 403–450. ISBN 9781578593637.


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