lassifying plants was the most important botanical practice during the Victorian period. Yet the apparently straightforward process of naming flowers was a source of bitter disputes that preoccupied much of the botanical community during the 1840s and 50s particularly. These centred on the Linnaean or sexual system of classification, which, despite claims to the contrary, remained in use in Britain well into the second half of the century. Its survival, long after the rest of Europe had abandoned it, contributed to the perception that British botany was backward and unfit to take its place alongside the physical sciences.
However, those attacking the Linnaean classification were divided over what should replace it: the most widely used of its rivals was known as the natural system, founded by Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu in 1789 and developed by Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle and others, but only slowly taken up in Britain. The naturalists who subsequently developed this system found themselves disagreeing over its definitions and principles, thus fragmenting it, yet only a single, settled natural system could vanquish the Linnaean one. The prominence of these destabilising debates was exacerbated by the existence of numerous other classificatory systems (including the binary or dichotomous system, the quinary and septenary systems, and others), all based on completely different principles to those of de Jussieu, yet which all claimed to be "natural". Both the debates within the natural system and the chaos of rival systems contributed to perceptions that botany was an unphilosophical study which lacked guiding principles.
Last modified 8 March 2008