The Middle Ages
During medieval times, very little was added to the science of plant taxonomy since the ancients were largely considered to have possessed all such knowledge. However, there were advances. One of the most important was the recognition of vast differences between vascular and nonvascular plant forms.
The 15th and 16th centuries are considered to be the prime time of the herbalists. It was a time of great belief in mystery, magic and superstitions, which naturally gave rise to curiosity and often wildly incorrect conclusions about the properties and values of certain plants. Medieval and Renaissance European herbalists identified approximately 6,000 plants, many of them brought for study from the many explorations of the period. Four famous herbalists and their major works are:
Otto Brunfels (1464-1534) Herbarum vivae Eicones
Jerome Bock (1469-1554) Neu Kretuerbuck
Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) De historia stirpium
Caspar Bauhin (1560-1631) Pinax theatric botanici
“Modern Science” arrives.
As superstition and magic subsided with the advance of education in Europe, various scholars began more modern studies of the plant world. Two important people who advanced the study are:
J. Ray (1628-1705) An Englishman who clearly drew the line between monocots and dicots.
J. P. Tournafort (1656-1708) A Frenchman who traveled widely throughout Europe and into Asia Minor and Africa, collecting and then introducing over 1300 new plants.
The person who organized it, once and for all: Linnaeus
The average person, if they know anything about taxonomy at all, probably knows this name. Linnaeus is deservedly known as “The Father of Plant Taxonomy.” It is his endlessly expandable system we all use today.
Linnaeus was born in southern Sweden in 1707, the son of a Swedish minister. It was his father who had taken the Latin name of Linnaeus in keeping with the fashion of the day for scholarly or important people to choose a classical name, or to “Latinize the patronymic.” He had chosen the name in honor of the linden or lime trees which graced the family homestead. Linnaeus’ real family name had been Ingermarsson. Beyond his Latinized name, Linnaeus was also known during his life as Carl von Linne’. But forget all that. To the plant world, he is Linnaeus.