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Understanding Taxonomy

DiminoMushrooms and peppers2

Understanding Taxonomy

By O.M. Braida©2013

Iconography is a branch of art history, which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means “image writing”.  In botanical art, iconography helps to reveal a complete story of the subject by identifying, describing and interpreting the various morphological and anatomical aspects of a plant.  Understanding this historical importance will help us to not only illustrate our subject correctly, but to include aspects of the subject in an image or collection of images that do their best to serve the purpose of interpretation or explanation.


In addition, by including in our name description the family, genus, species, author, and date we connect our illustration to a broader picture of its origin, its relationship to other plants, its identifier and the journey that ensued to make this a record for civilization.  Often times the story connected to these plants is quite dramatic, often harrowing, sometimes deadly.  To connect the botanist and the date to a plant opens up a world of understanding and gives greater value to our work as botanical artists. 


Taxonomy is the practice of naming things, including plants, insects, birds, animals, etc.  Carl von Linné (also known as Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) was a Swedish botanist, physician, zoologist and one of the most famous scientists in the world.  He is known as the father of taxonomy because he established in 1753 a formal system of naming all living things with Latin names – a system we refer to as “binomial classification.”  


Binomial classification, or binomial nomenclature, gives each species a name composed of two parts. It places this name in a family that has similar characteristics.  In the case of peppers, we have the family known as SOLANACEAE.


In the case of the binomial name, the first part of the name identifies the genus to which the species belongs; the second part identifies the species within the genus. In the case of peppers, Capsicum annuum.  Both names are always written in italics. The first name, the genus, is always written with a capital letter.  The second name, the species, is always written with a small letter.


In botany, the author who discovered the species and named it is attached to the binomial name.  The author’s name if long is abbreviated and, if so, always has a period after it.  For example, and in the case of peppers, the author’s name is attached like this: SOLANACEAE Capsicum annuum L. What is important to add next is the date that the species was recorded and published.  The name would appear as:


Capsicum annuum L. 1753

As plants evolve, and botanists continue their research and findings, they discover species create cultivars, such as the varieties found in peppers: Bell, Chili, Jalapeño, and Poblano. Cultivars are written with single quotation marks ‘Bell Pepper’ for example.


 Capsicum annuum L. 1753 var. annuum ‘Bell Pepper’


In some cases, botanists learn that species once classified in one genus or family actually belong in another family, or perhaps simply new information is added to the findings to explain the plant better.  The new information is recorded, the new botanist name is added and the new date is used.  When this occurs the species naming has a distinct way of being written. In the following example we show how the common name is shown. The initials “nv” mean “nomen vulgare” or common name in Latin.  Note there are no periods.


Agaricus bisporus (Lange) Imbach 1946

nv Cultivated Button Mushroom


Academy students learn more about this throughout the program.  You will see this name formatting in the course books.  As your understanding develops try to incorporate the correct binomial names on your identification labels written on or affixed to your tracing paper overlays.  It is not necessary to add it to your artwork unless you are skilled in calligraphy. In the Research on the Internet course you will learn more about this topic and how to search for plant identification. This is an exciting addition to our learning as it gives connection to how and when civilization discovered, identified, and recorded findings that change our lives.


When searching for this information, the following websites may be helpful.  Websites are always changing, but as of this printing the following sites offer good information and will help us locate the information we seek.  When you do find what you are looking for, the be sure to use the proper citation style.  Here is an example:

Alpinia purpurata (Vieill.) K. Schum. 1904, Pflanzen. IV. 46(Heft 20): 323, f. 40A. 1904.
Common Name: red-ginger (English, United States)  Brako, L., A.Y. Rossman & D.F. Farr. 1995. Sci. Comm. Names 1–294. Missouri Botanical Garden. 31 Mar 2015 <>


a. – Plant Database

b. – Plant Database

c  – Database for Plants and Animals, including insects.

d.  – Plant name search.

e. – United States Department of Agriculture Plant Database

f.. – American Orchid Society for Orchid Research

g. – Plant identification

h.  – Hybrid Orchid Identification


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