nav-left cat-right

“Taxonomy” ~ The Science of Naming

Carl_von_LinnéDear Friends:

Taxonomy is one of those words we don’t usually hear in every day life. We do encounter the term in biology classes where it is known as the Linnaean Taxonomy, after Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy. Linnaeus was a renowned botanist, physician and zoologist and one of the most influential scientists in history. He attempted to describe the natural world in its entirety and explore the relationships between groups of organisms and individual species.

As a branch of science concerned with classification, taxonomy includes all plants, animals and microorganisms of the world.  Basically, a taxonomy is a way to group things together using a system of two names referred to as “Binomial Nomenclature.”  The system uses the Latin scientific name of a species that is formed by the combination of the genus and species name (e.g. Homo sapiens). Although Linnaeus was not the first to use binomial nomenclature, he was the first to use it consistently, and it is now the scientific standard internationally. 

“Linnaeus sought a universal classification of all creation within a hierarchy based on morphological characteristics. At the top were three Kingdoms: Animalia for animals, Vegetabilia for plants and Mineralia for minerals. Kingdoms were divided into Classes, Classes into Orders, Orders into Genera, which were in turn divided into Species. Although, the classification system used today is based on Linnaean taxonomy, much has been re-classified due to new discoveries and scientific progress, especially with the advent of phylogenetic systematics and genomics.”(1)

For the nature artist, researching taxonomy information on plants, butterflies, birds, animals, is a very valid and important part of what we do.  Naming the species correctly is a way to learning more about the subject and becoming more intimate with its relationship to the world around it and us.  When we take the time to research our subject, we find so many interesting corollaries.  For example,  I have three paintings that were created by Sydney Parkinson.  When you do the research on the plants you learn that Parkinson was employed by Joseph Banks to travel with him on James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific in 1768. While aboard the HMS Endeavour, the expedition included such ports as Australia and New Zealand.  

The search for correct names can, of course, be quite daunting.  However, it is worth it because you confirm what it is you are actually portraying in your artwork.  And what’s more, those who are able to view your work get the added benefit of information that opens their world as well.

Below are several of the best sites to find what you need. Please keep this information handy so that you can always apply the correct plant name, author, and publication date to your artwork.  Take a look at these sites and take a few minutes to poke around and see what they offer.  Keep them handy as you will access them frequently.  We are indeed fortunate to have such bountiful resources.     

My best to you all. Olivia


  1. Convention of Biological Diversity. Linnaeus Lecture Series. 2010


Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)  – connected to USDA  –   

Find plant taxonomy, author, dates, and common names. Scroll down to Links to find additional information on other sites.  

When you click on Family name, you also can get the information about the author for the family name.


Taxon: Guaiacum officinale L.

Genus: Guaiacum

Family: Zygophyllaceae subfamily: Larreoideae.

Nomen number: 18047

Place of publication: Sp. pl. 1:381. 1753



Tropicos – connected to Missouri Botanical Gardens

The Plant List, IPNI, Australian Plant Name Index, New York Botanical Garden, Museum National d’Histoire in Paris, US National Herbarium, Virtual Herbarium Austria, J-Store Plant Science, African Plant Database at Geneva Botanical Gardens.





Has Latin name of plant and common name.  Has speaker to hear Latin names of subject. ALSO SEARCH FOR BUTTERFLIES, MOTHS, BIRDS AND ANIMALS INFO.

Scroll down to see taxonomic breakdown and learn the author.  

Look below under NOTES and find the publication year.

    • Genus: Guaiacum ( ) – C. Linnaeus, 1753
      • Specific epithet: officinale – L.
        • Botanical name: Guaiacum officinale L.



The International Plant Names Index  – Plant names, author, dates.  

Also, place the abbreviated author’s name in “Standard Form” box and get 

the full name of the author, plus dates of birth/death.  

Site also provides info on publications.


———————————————————————————————————————–   –  SITE IS CONNECTED TO KEW GARDENS AND MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDENS

This site works best if you have the Latin name.  Once you place name in the search, if they have the info

a screen comes up and gives you the following information.  Plus, it has about 13 other links to connect to

to find more info about the plant.

Guaiacum officinale L. is an accepted name

This name is the accepted name of a species in the genus Guaiacum (family Zygophyllaceae).

The record derives from WCSP (in review) which reports it as an accepted name with original publication details: Sp. Pl. 381 1753.

Full publication details for this name can be found in IPNI:




Access species profiles, interactive distribution maps, and photographs by browsing checklists or taxonomy pages, or by searching for a species of interest.



Cultivar versus Variety | Horticulture and Home Pest News


Here is more helpful information on this topic!!!!


 What is botanical nomenclature? It is a scientific classification of a plant into taxonomic groupings.

When to use nomenclature labeling? You wish to be taxonomically correct.

When not to use nomenclature labeling? Art is unidentifiable as to genus.

What items to Include when labeling? Four main headings include Family, Genus, Species, and Cultivar.

What is the proper format when labeling? See below.

Where do we obtain current information on a botanical name? International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (St. Louis Code) (black code) Koeltz Scientific Books 2000 is the most current book listing taxon classification. It is also available on line from

Family names end in “aceae.” Family is the group classification of plants that are like each other. There is no rule as to capital or italic. At the Academy, we use all CAPITALS. We add the family name when we are formally labeling.


Genus names are usually Latin and describe the group relation. The first letter is always capitalized and the whole word is either in Italic or Underlined. Always use when labeling.


Sub families and Sub genera are created to further divide the category. The name relates to the modified category. There is no rule as to capital or italic and rarely is used when labeling unless specified. Use when requested.


Species usually describes or relates to the genus or person who discovered the plant. The word is always in small case and the whole word is either in italic or underlined. Always use when labeling (see sp. when unknown.)


Sp. Abbreviation for species and always follows the genus names. The abbreviation is always in small case and the whole abbreviation is either in italic or underlined. Use when the species is unknown.


Spp. Abbreviation for species meaning more than one or encompassing many species in the genus. The abbreviation always follows the genus name. The abbreviation is always in small case and the whole is either in italic or underlined. Use when it applies.


Subsp. or ssp. Abbreviation for sub species meaning it is a natural hybrid of the species. The abbreviation is always in small case and the whole is either in italic or underlined. Use when it applies.

Variety (Abbreviated var.) is a taxonomic rank below that of species. Variety names are given when the mutation occurs in nature. The abbreviation var. is used to signify that the mutation is a variety; therefore, var. is placed after the specific epithet and is not underlined or italicized. The variety name is written after var. Capitalize the first letter of the variety name only if it is a proper noun. Example: Paphiopedilum fairrieanum var. giganteum Pradhan 1979

Cultivar or hybrid describes a man made subspecies of a plant. It usually is not a Latin word but, modern vernacular. It is up to three words ‘Capitalized’ and surrounded by a singular quote. Example: Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’


GREX – (pl. greges), – is the term used for a man-made hybrid derived from the Latin noun grex, gregis meaning flock. It has been coined to expand botanical nomenclature to describe horticultural hybrids of orchids.


Taxon or taxa is a general term for any collective group or unit in classification. Rosa is a taxon and roses are a taxa.

Specimen, collection and # may be used when requested to cite the herbarium specimen that was used to draw from. Each herbarium in the world is given an abbreviation and a list should be obtained. Use when requested.

Author is the person that first described the family, genus, species or cultivar. It is used in formal labeling only and abbreviated in all CAPITAL LETTERS. Use when requested.

Date is the publication date of the author. It is used occasionally or in formal labeling and traces the first publication describing the plant.   It is common to list either the year or publication, volume and page numbers. Example: Selbyana 23(4): 1-4. 2002. Use when requested.

 Common name is an artificial name given to a plant. It should only be used as a reference or to trace history as the same common name, in many cases, is given to many plants from many areas. Many names are one word or hyphenated and very descriptive to its local. Use when requested.

Origin is the native or artificial geography or habitat the plant comes from. Formally it is the country of origin of the native or manmade plant. Informally it can be the habitat or soil makeup where the plant naturally lives. Use when requested.

For more information, visit:

Eric Partrat:  

Other Links:

Good sites to find information on orchids:

2 Responses to ““Taxonomy” ~ The Science of Naming”

  1. Bonnie Lea Townsend says:

    I love this information. I remember learning a little of this in elementary school. I remember I did well, putting names together.It reminds me how much of a science person I am, and a lover of art.

  2. Olivia Chiusano says:

    Happy to hear you have enjoyed both the information and the memory. My best, Oivia