Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Achillea foliis duplicatopinnatis glabris, laciniis linearibus acute laciniatus

Achillea foliis duplicatopinnatis glabris, laciniis linearibus acute laciniatus was the “scientific name” for the common yarrow in pre-Linnaean time. Rob R. Dunn gives this examples in his book with the title “Every Living Thing” to demonstrate how scientists then made names longer and longer to describe and distinguish species. While a rapidly increasing number of new species was discovered by naturalists and explorers around the world—speaking different languages and communicating more frequently —the system of long names became unpractical and non-unique.

In Dunn's words
“Carl Linnaeus would save the common language of science. He would rescue it from the stew of names in which it was brewing.” In 1735 Linnaeus published his new two-name system in his book Systema Naturae. Naming is organizing. Linnaeus approach for plants was to use the male sex organs (stamens), which he thought were more characteristic for plant species than leave forms that typically were (and still are) chosen for classification. For animals, Linnaeus used jawbones and teats. Who said science can't be sexy? Linnaeus, in his time, was accused by his detractors, according to Dunn, of developing a system of classification unsuited to ladies.

By the way, the common yarrow is not named for any sex-organ feature, but for its deeply toothed, fern-like foliage: Achillea millefolium. The adjective
millefolium means thousand-leafed.


Rob R. Dunn: Every Living Thing. First Edition. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2009.

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