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Monday, January 09, 2006


Science classifies living things in an orderly system through which they can be readily identified. Living things are grouped into categories of increasing size, based upon relationships within those categories. For example, all plants can be put in order from the more primitive to the more advanced. Such a ranking would look like this:

Plant Kingdom

Bryophytes: Small with leaflike, stemlike, and rootlike structures.

Disseminated by spores: mosses, liverworts, hornworts.

Vascular Plants: Larger with true leaves, stems, and roots.

  1. Seedless: Ferns, horsetails, club mosses.

  2. Seed Plants:

    1. Gymnosperms: Usually have cones, no flowers, seeds not enclosed in fruit: pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, cycads, ginkgo.

    2. Angiosperms: Have flowers, seeds enclosed in fruit

      1. Monocotyledons: Leaves have parallel veins, one seed leaf: grasses, orchids, lilies, palms.

      2. Dicotyledons: Leaves have netted veins, two seed leaves: cherry trees, maples, coffee, daisies, etc.

This informal way of describing plant classification gives an overview of how plants are classified. Botanists use a more complex system. A botanist divides the plant kingdom into Divisions, similar to the Phyla used to divide the animal kingdom. There are twelve divisions. Referring to the above ranking, three of these divisions are Bryophytes, four are seedless plants, four are Gymnosperms, and one is Angiosperms. Each Division is further divided into Classes, which are divided into Orders, which are divided into Families, which are divided into Genera (singular, Genus), which are divided into species, which is the "basic unit" of classification. Put somewhat simply, individuals in a species are able to breed with each other, while in broader categories individuals do not interbreed.


Despite the great advances made in botany, there are many, many plants yet to be discovered, classified, and utilized; unknown plants are treasures waiting to be found. Today's ethnobotanists are combing regions of the world, looking for tomorrow's medicines and food crops. They are exploring the functional properties and relationships of plants within ecosystems to help us to understand the need for diversity in the way we manage our plant resources.

The plant world, our world, is in constant flux. Due to human and other factors, we are seeing the possibility of extinction for many plants and animals. Plant classification aids in keeping track of our planet's endangered inhabitants. Just as importantly, we are realizing the need to understand ecological systems which preserve biodiversity. Today's scientists are exploring how genetic diversity and ecological sensitivity are necessary in solving such problems as feeding the population and fighting disease. Plant classification is vital to these endeavors. As is plain to see, a name is not just a name.


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