Class – do they produce flowers or not?
Angiosperme – plants which produce flowers

Gymnosperme – plants which do not produce flowers

Subclass – do they have one or two seed leaves?
Dicotyledonae – plants with two seed leaves

Monocotyledonae – plants with one seed leaf

Superorder – do the plants seem to be related to one another in some way?
For Dicotyledonae – Magnoliidae, Hamamelidae, Caryphyllidae, Dilleniidae, Rosidae, Asteridae

For Monocotyledonae – Alismatidae, Commelinidae, Arecidae, Liliidae

(Do you recognize some familiar names like Magnolia, Rose, Aster and Lily?)

Each Superorder is divided into several Orders. The names of the different Orders all end in –ales.

Family – some botanists recognize 150 families, others recognize nearly 500!
The names of Families end in –aceae. Usually the Family name is as high as the classification goes.

The names end in –oideae.

Tribe – Tribes take into account even more detail about the plant.
Tribe names end in –eae.

Subtribe – Even more detail!
The names end in –inae. Usually only trained botanists recognize this level of detail!

Genus – This is the part of a plant name that is most familiar.
The Genus is written starting with a Capital letter.

Species – This identifies something about the plant such as color or leaf shape.
The species is written with lower case letters.

Variety – This identifies a very small difference in a species.
Variety follows the species name and starts with var. before the Variety name.

Form – Another small detail of a plant.
Form fits in between species and variety and starts with the word form or f.

Cultivar – A plant that has arisen from cultivation.
Usually the Cultivar is written in quotations or has a cv. in front of it.

Here is an example of how this all plays out for a plant called the Lesser Spearwort with narrow leaves:
Angiospermae Dicotyledonae Magnoliidae Ranunculares Ranunculaceae Ranunculoideae Ranunculeae Ranunculus flammula subsp. Flammula var. tenuifolius

That is a mouthful! A botanist can look at this name and know just about everything about this plant! But what about the rest of us? One thing Linnaeus also did was create what is known as the "binomial" (meaning two names) method whereby we commonly only use the Genus and Species names, which would be Ranunculus flammula, or R. flammula. Spearwort works for me!

Career Decisions
If you have an interest in biology, botany or agriculture, you will certainly become exposed to Plant Taxonomy as well as many other areas such as Plant Morphology (structure), Plant Anatomy (tissue structure details), Plant Pathology (causes and control of diseases), Plant Physiology (chemical processes) and Plant Genetics (breeding).

Some Fun for the Dinner Table
The next time someone asks you what you want for dinner, try some of the following binomial answers:

 Instead of:  Ask for:
 Cabbage    Cruciferae brassica
 Carrots    Daucus carota
 Onions    Allium cepa
 Peppers    Capsicum annuum
 Sweet Potato Pie  Ipomoea batatas Pie
 Sweet Corn  Zea mays


Ray and Gale Lawson  have been homeschooling their 3 children since 1995. Ray holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and works for Washington Group International. Gale holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Carolina and is full-time mom and teacher. They are members of Breezy Hill Baptist Church in Graniteville, SC. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcomed and can be emailed to them at vmi1981@bellsouthnet (Ray) or (Gale).

This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec '05 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit To request a free sample copy, visit