Classification of Plants

There are millions of different plants in the world. It helps us to make sense of all these different plants if we put those that look similar into groups, and name these groups (e.g. Geraniums, lettuces, citrus fruits, Proteas).

In 1735, a Swedish botanist and medical doctor named Carolus Linnaeus [say: Ka-row-lus Lih-nay-us] developed a way to classify natural things into groups according to how similar they looked. He published his classification system in a book called Systema Naturae, meaning ‘a system of nature’.

Linnaeus divided natural things into the following groups:

  • Three very large groups called Kingdoms: Animals, Plants and Minerals;
  • Kingdoms are divided into Classes, e.g. Vertebrates and Invertebrates in the animal kingdom;
  • Classes are split up into Families, e.g. the Protea, Erica and Restio plant families in the fynbos;
  • Smaller groups of plants or animals that look fairly similar are grouped into Genera (singular: Genus); and
  • Each Genus usually contains a number of Species. These individual types of animals or plants can breed with others of the same type.

After nearly 300 years we still use this system of classification and modern genetic techniques allow botanists to accurately determine the family trees of known plant species.