Those Weird Names Scientists Use
Have you ever watched a gardening TV show only to have no idea what plants they're talking about because they use the Latin names? What are those names and why do scientists and professionals in the horticultural industry use them? They are called scientific names, and they are names used by scientists to categorize and organize all known living organisms.
Binomial nomenclature is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms, although they can be based on words from other languages. Such a name is called a binomial name or a scientific name; more informally it is also called a Latin name. The first part of the name identifies the genus to which the species belongs; the second part identifies the species within the genus. For example, humans belong to genus Homo and within this genus to the species Homo sapiens. The introduction of this system of naming species is usually credited to Carl Linnaeus.
Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 - January 10, 1778), also known after his ennoblement as Carl von Linné, was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.
Plant taxonomy is the science that finds, describes, classifies, identifies, and names plants. It thus is one of the main branches of taxonomy. Two goals of plant taxonomy are the identification and classification of plants. The distinction between these two goals is important and often overlooked.
Plant identification is the determination of the identity of an unknown plant by comparison with previously collected specimens or with the aid of books or identification manuals. The process of identification connects the specimen with a published name. Once a plant specimen has been identified, its name and properties are known.
Plant classification is the placing of known plants into groups or categories to show some relationship. Scientific classification follows a system of rules that standardizes the results, and groups successive categories into a hierarchy. For example, the Tiger Lily, Lilium Tigrinum, is classified as follows:
§ Kingdom: Plantae
§ Division: Magnoliophyta
§ Class: Liliopsida
§ Order: Liliales
§ Family: Liliaceae
§ Genera : Lilium
§ Species: Tigrinum
The establishment of universally accepted conventions for the naming of organisms was Linnaeus' main contribution to taxonomy-his work marks the starting point of binomial nomenclature. During the 18th century expansion of natural history knowledge, Linnaeus also developed what became known as the Linnaean taxonomy; the system of scientific classification now widely used in the biological sciences.
The Linnaean system classified nature within a nested hierarchy, starting with three kingdoms. Kingdoms were divided into Classes and they, in turn, into Orders, which were divided into Genera (singular: genus), which were divided into Species (singular: species). Below the rank of species he sometimes recognized taxa of a lower unnamed rank (for plants these are now called "varieties"). For example, Bob's grows a few hundred different varieties of impatiens, the main difference among the varieties simply being the color of the flowers.
Linnaeus' groupings were based upon shared physical characteristics. Only his groupings for animals survive, and the groupings themselves have been significantly changed since their conception, as have the principles behind them. Nevertheless, Linnaeus is credited with establishing the idea of a hierarchical structure of classification which is based upon observable characteristics. While the underlying details concerning what are considered to be scientifically valid "observable characteristics" have changed with expanding knowledge (for example, DNA sequencing, unavailable in Linnaeus' time, has proven to be a tool of considerable utility for classifying living organisms and establishing their relationships), the fundamental principle Linnaeus created remains sound.