A little background...
A few key events in the history of botany:
Since the dawn of humanity, plants have been used as food, medicines, poisons or materials, without us truly understanding their unique biological features. During the third century B.C., the Greek Theophrastus classified over 500 plants, discovering certain medicinal properties in some of them, and creating the first botanical gardens in Western history. During the Middle Ages, botany only meant knowing about medicinal plants, then as the Renaissance drew near, humans began looking at the nature around them with more interest. Artists were the first to take on a naturalist vision, representing the plant world in their canvases.
The invention of the printing press revolutionised the availability of works: many printed herbariums replaced manuscripts. Botany began to be seen as the study of plants in themselves, more than just a study of their medical properties. As it grew independent from medicine, “medical material” evolved towards botanical science. Botany has been known as an observatory discipline producing illustrations which are faithful to reality. Along with technical progress – the appearance of the microscope in the 17th century – and the advent of a certain scientific methodology inspired by Descartes, botany metamorphosed into a descriptive and biological science. Exploratory travel as well as discoveries on germination and plant reproduction nurture scientific knowledge of plants.
During the Enlightenment, when the human mind set out to rule the world, the science of botany became codified by a nomenclature called Linnean, which was established by Carl von Linné in 1753, who laid the foundations for modern botany. In the 19th century, awareness of the evolution of living beings (Lamarck's transformism, Darwin's theory of evolution) renewed our understanding of the living world and influenced botany: classification became phylogenetic and aimed at identifying the common ancestor of plants and how they had evolved. With the technological developments which occurred during the 20th century – especially the discovery of the genome – classification now involves increasingly complex species characteristics and operates on a digital scale, which means that degrees of difference or similarity are easy to index.