Plant Taxonomy

Learn why plants are named scientifically and to identify distinguishing botanical features making plant identification much easier.

Course Code: SGH9
Fee Code: SG
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 20 hours
Qualification Certificate of Completion
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Plant Taxonomy  (i.e. the scientific identification of plants) has been increasingly sidelined and neglected in horticulture, agriculture, botany and science courses.

This is really something that EVERYONE who works with plants should study.

It covers things colleagues have complained about being neglected in most horticulture and agriculture courses for decades. These are things that used to be in most certificates, diplomas and degrees but no longer. This is knowledge that could be lost to the industry if younger generations don't make an effort to learn it.

Knowing what we teach here will help you make a lot more sense of plant names.

This short course is a great way to become proficient in understanding the essentials in plant taxonomy.

To the ill informed, it is a low priority for gardeners, environmentalists or farmers to identify obscure parts of a plant; or place plants into a high level scientific classification such as a family or class. For anyone who understands these industries well however, it can be critical to have that knowledge.  Taxonomy trains people to observe the finer details that separate one plant cultivar from another. It provides a framework that makes the process of identifying plants systemic.

This course will help you to identify what a plant is faster and with greater accuracy than would otherwise be possible.

Leading horticulturists and botanists all over the world are all too aware of a serious decline in taxonomic skills and awareness. Anyone who works with plants needs to understand how critical plant taxonomy is. Without this level of taxonomic knowledge though, you risk misidentifying plants. That can mean growing a less productive species, or even worse - growing a plant with higher levels of toxins and being unaware you are doing so.

This short course that can be completed in 20 hours covers 4 lessons:

At the end of each lesson, you will be given a short interactive test to undertake, which will provide an indication of how your learning is progressing.  Upon completing the very last lesson, you will be offered a more thorough automated test or examination. If you achieve an overall pass; in this final assessment, you will be able to obtain a "Certificate of Completion", which will have your name on it.

Lesson Structure

There are 4 lessons in this course:

  1. INTRODUCTION - The Why and How of Plant Names
    • Why Name Plants?
    • Scientific Vs. Vernacular Names
    • History
    • John Ray
    • Linnaeus
    • Ranks and Language
    • Ranks of Classification - KPCOFGS
    • Latin Names
    • Gardener’s Ranks
    • International Code of Botanical Nomenclature
    • The Basic Ideas
    • a) Valid publication
    • b) The type method
    • c) Aim of the principle of priority
    • d) Exceptions to the principle of priority
    • Legitimate Naming
    • Recent Changes to the Code
    • International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants
    • Taxonomic Name Resolution Service
    • International Plant Names Index
    • The Rise of Molecular Data
    • The Impact of Molecular Data
  2. NAMING THE BITS - Plant Anatomy
    • Describing a Plant for the First Time, or “Naming the Bits”
    • Habit
    • Stems
    • Hairs
    • Flowers
    • Botanical Characteristics of Dianthus
    • Fruits
    • Indehiscent
    • Schizocarpic
    • Dehiscent
    • A Key to the Main Types of Fruits
    • Roots
    • Using Resources
    • Collecting and Preserving a Plant
    • Fresh Material
    • Herbarium Specimens
    • Photographs
    • The Problem of Colour
    • The Law Relating to Plant Collecting
    • Describing a Plant on Paper
    • The Equipment You Need
    • DNA Bar-coding
    • Floral Formulae
    • Floral Diagrams
    • Keys
    • Making a Key
    • Using a Key
    • When all this fails, what do you do?
    • Botanic Gardens
    • Nurseries
  4. PLANT FAMILIES - The Family Life of Plants
    • What Genera are in What Family?
    • Monocotyledons
    • Dicotyledons
    • Major Families
    • Anthophyta
    • Apiaceae (= Umbelliferae)
    • Araceae
    • Asteraceae (= Compositae)
    • Brassicaceae (= Crucifereae)
    • Bromeliaceae
    • Cucurbitaceae
    • Fabaceae (= Leguminosae or Papillionaceae)
    • Gesneriaceae
    • Lamiaceae (= Labiatae)
    • Liliaceae
    • Myrtaceae
    • Orchidaceae
    • Poaceae (= Graminae)
    • Other Significant Plant Phyla
    • Coniferophyta
    • Monilophyta


Here is a video made by our horticultural staff to explain the fundamentals of plant taxonomy.

Watch this as a starting point and if you want to take a step beyond these basics - do the course.

Member of the Future Farmers Network

Member of the International Herb Association since 1988

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Our principal John Mason is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture

Accredited ACS Global Partner

ACS Distance Education is a member of the Australian Garden Council, Our Principal John Mason is a board member of the Australian Garden Council

Member of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association since 1993

ACS is a silver sponsor of the AIH. The principal, John Mason, is a fellow. ACS certificate students are offered a free membership for this leading professional body.Provider.

Member of Study Gold Coast

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

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