Species Plantarum

Species Plantarum ("The Species of Plants") was first published in 1753, as a two-volume work by Carl Linnaeus. Its prime importance is perhaps that it is the primary starting point of plant nomenclature as it exists today. This means that the first names to be considered validly published in botany are those that appear on this book. The book contained all plants known to European naturalists.

Species Plantarum was the first work that consistently applied a referable system of nomenclature; it was a vast improvement over the cumbersome polynomial descriptions generally used before its publication. The first edition of Species Plantarum (with the 1754 edition of an earlier work, Genera Plantarum) has been internationally accepted as the starting point in the nomenclature of flowering plants and ferns.

The classification employed in the work allowed easy identification of plants, by placing every genus into an artificial class and order. By counting pistils and stamens, anybody, even without much knowledge of plants, was able to get to a listing of genera that the plant in question should belong to.

Linnaeus gave a formal multiple-word description to each plant and an additional epithet to be used with the genus for easier reference, thus separating taxonomy from nomenclature. For example, the tomato was described (page 185) as SOLANUM caule inermi herbaceo foliis pinnatis incisis, racemis simplicibus. The given epithet was Lycopersicum.

This was the first consistent use of naming structure for plants, and laid the basis for modern nomenclature. The binary name SOLANUM Lycopersicum (now rendered Solanum lycopersicum) very soon took over in usage because of its brevity, and the multiple-word definitions were no longer treated as formal names.

Volume 1 of the first edition covers 11 unnumbered pages of introduction and pages 1–560, while volume 2 covers pages 561–1200, plus 31 unnumbered pages of index, addenda, and errata.

Species Plantarum cover page
Species Plantarum cover page of first edition

Author: Carl Linnaeus

Country: Sweden

Language: Latin

Subject(s): Botany

Publisher: Laurentius Salvius

Publication date: 1753

Media type: Print

Pages: xi, 1200, + xxxi

International Standard Book Number: NA

After its first edition, this work went through several editions, continuing after the death of its original author. Species Plantarum also marks the starting point of a great upsurge in the popularity of science, and arguably is amongst the most important publications in biology ever.

Linnaeus himself published the second, third and fourth editions of this work. The second, in two volumes, was published in 1762-1763, with pages of corrections and supplementary material. The third edition was actually much the same as the second, but with the corrections and supplementary material integrated into the text, and was published in 1764. The fourth edition was actually included in the work Systema Plantarum in 1779.

After Linnaeus' death, Carl Ludwig Willdenow undertook a new, greatly expanded edition of the work. This was published in six volumes, in thirteen parts, from 1797 to 1830, and was completed after Willdenow's death. This edition was titled "Editio Quarto", or "Fourth Edition", although it was really the fifth. A sixth edition was published under Heinrich Friedrich Link and Albert Dietrich in two volumes in 1831-1833.