The History of TAXONOMY

There have been many examples on classifying of the plants through time, and there will probably come more. The first known is from China around 3600 B. C. The first known European is from around 300 B. C., and taxonomists are right now working on the latest edition of APG IV.

Taxonomy have fascinated me for many years, but I have found it frustrating, classes came and disappeared, the ending on orders changes, families change names, and it seems like every source had it's system. While digging down deeper in the history of taxonomy, I realized there were many parallel systems, and most borrowed form earlier systems. Some came up with radical changes, other just changes a few orders in an existing system. What puzzles me is; not a single plant stands without author, but no one seems to be willing to write which system they are using.
I have not been able to find the full taxon on the early systems, but most systems from 1900 and till today is present in details, down to families.             
                                                                               Bihrmann, 2007.

                                         The information on this page is gathered from around 90 sources, no list.

                2650 BC-1542    1583-1690 >
In the beginning, there were not really systems, but just lists of medical plants. In some cases divided into; tree, shrub and herb. Never the less, I have included the first authors.


~2650 BC Emperor Shen (Chi'en) Nung (2696 B.C.) collected information on medical herbs. His knowledge was written down in Shen Nung Pen Ts'ao Ching in around 650 BC, and contained 365 plants.
 He is known as the "Father of Agriculture and Medicine" in China.


1700 BC Edwin Smith's papyrus from Egypt was written in hieratic around the 17th century BC, but thought to be based on material from as early as 3000 BC. It is basically a medical document with  trauma surgery for battlefield injuries, but deals with medical herbs as well. It was found in 1862 in Luxor, and was translated by James Breasted in 1930.


1500 BC Ebers medical papyrus from Egypt is a systematic arrangement of medicinal plants. It make a simple classification based on habit of the plants. It  was purchased at Luxor (Thebes) in the winter of 1873Ė74 by Georg Ebers and is now in the library of the University of Leipzig, Germany.  It was translated in 1890, by H. Joachim.
 Sorted by habitat.


300 BC One of the first known European writings about plants is by Theophrastus (Θεόφραστος) (372-287 B.C). He made the first classifications, based on the plant's similarities and differences in Historia plantarum and Causae plantarum. Is is an encyclopaedia of what later became known as the plant kingdom, in which a draft taxonomy is sketched, together with a basic classification of plant "elements". Differences between organs (external) and tissues (internal), and further more, he made recording of different types of tissues. It was translated to Latin by Theodore Gaza, at Treviso, 1483. Theophrastus' main groups were Tree, Shrub, Undershrub and Herb, then divided by annual, biennial and perennial indeterminate and determinate inflorescences, ovary position, polypetalous and gamopetalous corollas.
His publication contained 500 plants.

Theophrastus was born on the Greek island Lesbos. He was a student of Plato and Aristotle. He presided over the Peripatetic school for 35 years, and dealt with many scientific subjects.

Some of his names live today: Daucus, Asparagus, and Narcissus.


 Divides plants in: Tree, shrub, under-shrub or herb. Flowering, non flowering.

Main groups:

50-70 AD Pedanius Dioscorides (Pedianos Dioskourides) (c.40 - c.90 A.C.) wrote De Materia Medica (Peri ulhV iatrikhV), which was one of the basic source of information about plants for 1500 years.  It included around 5-600 plants, and dealt general with their medical use, but also record something of their botany and living morphology including roots, foliage, and sometimes flowers. It was sorted:  "I shall endeavor to use a different arrangement [than alphabetic] and describe the classes according to the properties of the individual drugs." His scheme was to organize by category or class and then by the physiological effect of the drug on the body. The classification of drugs with similar pharmaceutical properties was too subtle, however, and not comprehended.

Pedanius Dioscorides was born in Anazarbus, Greece (Nazarba, Turkey) - part of the Roman Empire. He had access to the library at Alexandria, and may have studied at Tarsus. He became a leading physician, pharmacologist and botanist, and his work on medical plants was a keystone to a medical carrier for 1Ĺ millennium.

The genus Dioscorea is named in his honor.

 Sort by "properties of the individual drugs".

~500 Tao Hung Ching (452-536) wrote Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (Collection of Commentaries on the Divine Husbandman's Classic of Materia Medica) which were based on Shen Nung Pen Ts'ao Ching, but now contained 730 plants,  Sort by medical effect.


~878 √bu Hanžfar √hmad ibn Dawýd Džnawarž (828-896) is considered the father of Arabic botanic. Some of his work have been lost, but it seems to deal with around 1000 plants or more. It is based on now lost written and oral information. Beside from an alphabetic list, here are information on medical, agriculture and other useful plants along with mushrooms. How to grow or gather them, the soil and description on the phases of its growth.

√bu Hanžfar √hmad ibn Dawýd Džnawarž / Al-Dinawri was born in Džnawar (modern days western Iran). He studied astronomy, mathematics and mechanics in Isfahan and poetry and philology in Kufa and Basra. Beside from that, he had an interest in  agriculture, botany and metallurgy.

His work; Kitab Al-Nabat; Book of Plants is his main  contribution.

 Alphabetic sorted. Growing tips.


~1250 Albertus Magnus (Albert) (~1200-1280) ( Saint Albert the Great, Albert of Cologne) produced a classification system that recognized monocots and dicots, although he do not use those terms.

Albertus Magnus was born in Lauingen an der Donau, Germany. He became a Dominican friar who achieved fame for his comprehensive knowledge and advocacy for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. He applied the Aristotle's philosophy to Christian thoughts. In 1260, he became Bishop of Regensburg,

He was made a Saint in 1931 and, in 1941, made patron of natural scientists.


 Enriched Christianity with Aristotelian knowledge. The first idea of a monocot and dicot division.




Otto Brunfels (1488-1534) published his Herbarum vivae icones,1530 and 1536 and Contrafayt Kršuterbuch, 1532-1537. They contain new and good descriptions of the German plants he found during his botanical studies, under their German vernacular names.

Otto Brunfels (also known as Brunsfels or Braunfels) was born in Bern, Switzerland. He studied theology and philosophy in Mainz, and became a minister at Steinau an der StraŖe in 1521 and later, in Neuenburg am Rhein.
His main interest were the history of evangelical Church, but he also published books on pedagogic, Arabic language and pharmaceutics. Due to the interest in healing plants, he took botany up. He study medicine at the University of Basel, got his M.D. in 1530, and became the City physician in Bern two years later. The special about his publications on botany is; he describes the plants he see, instead of using previous descriptions.


Main groups: No groups


JťrŰme (Hieronymus) Bock or Tragus (1498-1554) published the first edition of his Kreuterbuch in 1539 un-illustrated.  In 1546, it was illustrated by the artist David Kandel. In those books, he arranging plants by their relation or resemblance. He made a system to classify 700 plants by characteristics, and medical uses.

JťrŰme Tragus, was a German botanist, physician, and Lutheran priest who began the transition from medieval botany to the modern scientific worldview by arranging plants by their relation or resemblance.

He have to plants named after: The grass genus Tragus and spurge genus Tragia.

 Made a system of plants.

Main groups:


Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), who is known for his De historia stirpium commentarii insignes 1542 or "New KreŁterbuch". Here, Fuchs tried to identify the plants described by the classical authors. The book contains the description of about 400 German and more than 100 domesticated plant species, but there are no system. It was the way he described the plants, that made him one "of the fathers".

Leonhart Fuchs was a German physician, born in Wemding in the Duchy of Bavaria. After marine school, he became Magister Artium in Ingolstadt, and received his M. D. in 1524.

The plant Fuchsia is named after him.

 Good description method.

Main groups: No groups

                2650 BC-1542    1583-1690 >