Plant Classification


The Swedish Carolus Linnaeus published the first systemic classification of plants in "Species Planatarium." The numerous classification systems after Linnaeus have grouped plants by their physical characteristics. Traditional classifications are currently being reassessed in view of DNA research. Kingdom Plantae, which contains all plants, is followed by botanical classes that give increasing detail and information about plants; these are phyla, classes, orders, families, genera and species.


The singular of "phyla" is phylum. The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature also permits the word "Division" instead of phyla. Phyla include anthrophyta (flowering plants), byrophyta (mosses), coniferophyta (conifers) and Pterophyta (ferns).


Classes of plants are broken into Angiosperms, those that produce flowers and Gymnosperms, those that don't produce flowers. Angiosperms and gymnosperms are divided into monocots, plants with one seed leaf and dicots, plants with seeds that have two seed leaves.


Plant orders are divisions of classes. Orders usually end with the letters "es." An apple tree belongs in the division (or phylum) Magnoliophyta, class Magnaliapsida and order Rosales.


This is usually the highest category listed when plants are named. There are 150 to 500 plant families, depending on the botanical taxonomy being used. Most modern systems of classification name a family after a plant; plants with similar characteristics are grouped under that plant name.The family name usually ends in "accae." Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is a member of the Cupressaceae family, named for the cypress. Juniper tees have certain essential characteristics that are similar to cypress trees; hence they are both members of the Cupressaceae family.


The singular of "genera" is genus. Genus is the first name listed the botanical name of a plant, and it begins with a capital letter. The genus name is the Latin version for the familiar, standard name for a plant. In Juniperus occidentalis, Juniperus indicates the juniper tree genus. When a discussion involves more than one species of a genus, the name of the genus is spelled out on the first reference; after that the first letter, capitalized, is used.


The species, which follows the name of the genus, gives the characteristics of a specific plant. These characteristics might be shape or size of its leaves, the color of flowers, bark or wood or where it is found. The species name begins with a lower case letter, and it follows the name of the genus. Occidentalis means western in Latin; Juniperus occidentalis is western juniper.

Other Terms

A cultivar is a cultivated variety of a plant. Some cultivars are hybrids; others forms naturally through cross-pollination. The name of a cultivar follows the names of the genus and species. The abbreviation cv. sometimes precedes the name and sometimes it is enclosed in single quotation marks. Chamaecyparis lawsonia 'Golden Wonder' is a cultivar of Lawson's cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsonia. An "x" between two words in a classification that signifies a hybrid between two species. For example, the rose Soleil d'Or is Rosa foetida x 'Antoine Ducher' a hybrid of Rosa foetida, the Austrian yellow rose, and the cultivar 'Antoine Ducher.'

Keywords: plant classification, botanical identification, plants types kinds

About this Author

Richard Hoyt, the author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.