UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  dfculbert@ifas.ufl.edu

May 17, 2007

Quick Links:  Linnaeus Life   Plant relationships  Botanical names  References  Comments

Feature Article - for release the week of  May 20, 2007

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

The logo of the tercentenary is based on a picture that was painted by the leading botanical artist of his day, Georg Dilnys Ehret. The painting illustrates Class 10 of the sexual system.

Happy Birthday, Linnaeus


A new Master Gardener class is underway.  By the end of the class, another half-dozen volunteers will be available to help locals identify the right plant for Florida Yards.  One of the questions Master Gardeners asked me in the first class was, “Why do I have to know those blasted fancy plant names?”

An early topic in the program is the why’s and how’s of scientific nomenclature – the “fancy names” given to plants and animals.  The person who came up with this system was in the news this week, as the 300th birthday of Carl von Linné was celebrated from his hometown in Sweden to Jacksonville’s Museum of Science & History.

To understand how the Father of Taxonomy’s life-work can help us build Florida-Friendly Yards, today’s column will touch on the life of this 18th century scientist and explain how you can use this “geeky Greek gobbledygook” to your advantage.


The Life of Linnaeus

This son of a Lutheran pastor, Carl Linnaeus was born on May 23, 1707 in the southern Sweden. His father’s love of gardening encouraged his early love for plants.  In 1728, he transferred to the University of Uppsala in Sweden to study medicine.  He spent much of his time collecting and studying plants.  His own expeditions to Lapland, Central Sweden, England and the Netherlands helped him to develop a system of botanical classification.

In 1735, he earned his doctorate and also published the first edition of his classification of living things, the Systema Naturae.  Awarded a professorship at Uppsala in 1741, many of his students soon were traveling worldwide with the likes of Captain James Cook.  His collaboration with these early botanical explorers helped him refine and expand his work from a slim pamphlet to a multi-volume work. It remains the basis for classifying plants and animals today.

Linnaeus also sought to improve economic self-sufficiency of his home county.  He tried growing many introduced crops and looked for native substitutes when the non-natives proved unable to adapt to Swedish environments.  He was also the personal physician to the Swedish royal family.  In 1761 he was granted a title of nobility, and took the name Carl von Linné.  He died in 1778, and his library was sold.  English natural historian Sir James Edward Smith used these collections to found the Linnaean Society of London.

An early portrait of Carl Linnaeus as he looked on this expedition to Lapland, in Finland, about 1737 by Martin Hoffman, of the Netherlands. Graphic from U. Cal Berkley.  Image:Systema Naturae cover.jpg This is the cover page of the 1760 edition of the Linnaeus work that outlined a plant classification system based on binomial nomenclature.  Graphic from Wikpedia.  Image:Carolus Linnaeus (cleaned up version).jpg This portrait of Carl von Linné was painted by Alexander Roslin in 1775. Currently owned by and hanging at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

 Its all relative

Linnaeus established the idea that organisms can be classified by their observable characteristics.  These characteristics become more similar the closer a particular organism is listed in this “family tree of life.”  Traditionally the relationships of plants were based largely on the similarities of flowers, fruits and seeds; in the future, we will rely on DNA analysis to show relativity.

Gardening enthusiasts can use this to advantage.  Plants that look alike, that are indeed related to each other, often have similar kinds of growing conditions, sizes, colors, textures and a whole lot more.  While this is not always true, these plant relationships can help track down the specific information about a plant in question. 

For example, an office visitor brought in a branch with a cluster of yellow bell-shaped flowers.  The texture of the leaves and the shape of the bloom gave me a hint of oleanders.  I was able to track down the true identity of the mystery plant by looking for close relatives of  Nerium oleander.   I found Lucky Nut (Thevetia peruviana) in one of my references on the page right before the oleander. 

Oleanders (Nerium oleander) have thick leathery leaves and flowers with a bell shape.  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS Lucky Nut plants (Thevetia peruviana) also have long, leathery leaves and bell-shaded flowers.  Both of these plants are poisonous and are members of the Dogbane (Apocynaceae) family. Photo Wikpedia

A rose by any other name

Scientific names of living things use two words that are recognized world-wide.  This is known as Binomial nomenclature.  Even if a plant has dozens of locally used common names, persons from any place can recognize the specific plant. 

But the part that makes it hard to use these names is that the words are in Latin. Why Latin?  In a nutshell, a “dead” language such as Latin is subject to little change.  It becomes a very stable way to communicate across different cultures and time periods.  In actuality, newly discovered species often are given “latinized” versions of modern-day words, and these names are “latininzed” to honor a person or a place.

Specific names of plants (and all other organisms) use a first word, the Genus, and a more specific second name, the species.   In scientific literature, the Genus and species are followed with the name of a person, the authority that first described that species in the scientific literature.  In the case of cultivated varieties, a fourth word is added in quotes, the name of the cultivar.

Cherokee Rose,  Rosa laevigata Michx.,  is a native to southern China, Taiwan and southeast Asia. Photo: Wikpedia.  A common rose rootstock is  a hybrid of the two parent plants, Left and right. The botanical name,  Rosa x fortuniana ‘Double White Cherokee’, indicates it is a hybrid and a cultivar.  Photo: Roses Loubert - Collection Nationale de Roses Botaniques Rosa banksiae Aiton., commonly referred to as the Lady Banks' Rose, is native to central and western China.  Photo: Wikpedia. 

Here’s an example.   Here in Florida, we recommend that garden roses be grafted onto a rootstock called Fortuniana.  This plant is actually a hybrid, a cross between two species of roses, the Cherokee Rose (Rosa laevigata Michx.) and the Lady Banks Rose (Rosa banksiae Aiton).  Rosa is the genus for these plants (Genus names are always capitalized!).  The words laevigata and banksiae are the species names (written in small case letters!).  After the species names are abbreviations for the botanists that first described these plants, such as André Michaux and William Aiton. In many garden plants, an “X” indicates it is a hybrid, and the hybridized offspring is given a new “species” name, in this case fortuniana.  And this particular variety is called the Double White Cherokee.  So the full citation is Rosa x fortunianaDouble White Cherokee’ .

Why bother with all of this mess?  Here’s why:  A few years ago I suggested that a landscaper use a particular Florida native plant, the Florida Privet.  Its botanical name is Forestiera segregata.  There were soil drainage issues there that killed off the Japanese Privet already on site.  He called his supplier, who sent him some more very nice Japanese Privet shrubs.  This plant carries the name Ligustrum japonica, a native from Japan, that is less well adapted to poorly drained sites.  The result was the plants went back to the nursery, and the landscaper’s job was delayed because they failed to use correct botanical nomenclature.

Florida Privet or Inkbush (Forestiera segregata) makes a nice hedge in coastal Florida, and can tolerate poor drainage better than Japanese privet.  Photo Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS


Japanese or Wax-leaf Privet (Ligustrum japonicium) is a non-native hedge plant that is sensitive to poorly drained soils.  Photo: UF/IFAS

And here’s another reason: our office receives monthly catalogs of wholesale prices of Florida landscape plants.  They are listed by the botanical names.  So if you call our office looking for a good price or the name of a nursery that has Sweet Gum trees for sale, our Master Gardeners know to look them up as Liquidambar styriciflua.

Blame it on Linnaeus, but those are a couple of the practical reasons for knowing a little about Latin names.  Love him or hate him, we wish Carl von Linné a happy 300th!

I’ve placed more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on Linnaeus and his system of scientific names, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons.  GO GATORS!


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /University of Florida. Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim Dean. Last update: 02/22/2010.  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert



Matsumoto, S., Nishio,H.,  Ueda,Y. and Fukui H. Phylogenetic Analyses of Genus Rosa: Polyphyly of Section Pimpinellifoliae and Origin of Rosa X Fortuniana Lindl.   In: International Society for Horticultural Science website, date unknown.  http://www.actahort.org/members/showpdf?booknrarnr=547_43 

National Linnaeus Secretariat.   Linnaeus2007 website.  Stockholm: Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, 5/17/07.  http://www.linneaus2007.se/

Plant Names & Classification: What's in a name?  Sydney, Australia:   Botanic Gardens Trust, 2007.  http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/information_about_plants/botanical_info/plant_names_and_classification 

Waggoner, Ben. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). Berkley: University of California Museum of Paleontology, 07/07/00. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/linnaeus.html 

Wikipedia.  Carolus Linnaeus.  5/17/07.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolus_Linnaeus



Hello, Thanks a lot [for the column]!   It's great for us working with the celebration to see the whole world is with us!

            Best Regards,  Mariethe Larsson, Head of Media Relations,  Linnaeus2007