Linnaeus' Sexual System (1735)1

Although binomials are a valuable shorthand, what probably contributed even more to the success of the Species plantarum was the ease with which it could be used to identify plants.

Characters of the Classes


Orders are taken from the females or pistils, as classes were from the males or stamens...

Monogynia, Digynia, etc.

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An example; Dodecatheon L.

The American cowslip, D. meadia L. (Pentandria Monogynia), was described by Erasmus Darwin (Charles' grandfather) in his popularization of the Linnaean system, The Botanic Garden (1791), as follows:

MEADIA'S soft chains five suppliant beaux confess,
And hand in hand the laughing belle address;
Alike to all, she bows with wanton air,
Rolls her dark eye, and waves her golden hair.

Thus, this verse describes how Dodecatheon belongs in Class Pentandria ("five beaux"), Order Monogynia ("the laughing belle"). Users of Linnaeus' system needed merely to be able to understand the construction of a flower, and be able to count, in order to assign an unknown plant to its class and order.

[Dodecatheon sp. - Photo M. Ferguson]

Dodecatheon sp.
Photo M. Ferguson,
Royal Ontario Museum 1998

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W. T. Stearn's "An Introduction to the Species Plantarum and cognate botanical works of Carl Linnaeus," 1957.

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