Taxonomy the classification of plants

To delve further into the anatomical nature of wood, generalities must now give way to specifics, and individual types and species must be considered at the cellular level. Taxonomy, the science of classifying living things, provides a logical approach to studying the cellular nature of wood, because, as expected, closely related trees will have similar wood tissue. It follows that wood identification is based on the systematic knowledge and recognition of cell structure.

The plant kingdom is classified into divisions (phyla), subdivisions (classes), orders, families, genera and species (Figure 2.3). It is customary to refer to a tree, or its wood, by its species name. In the system of scientific nomenclature, a species is designated by a binomial term consisting of its genus (generic name) followed by the species (specific name). The complete scientific name also includes an abbreviation of the name of the botanist who first discovered and classified the plant, although this is frequently omitted in general texts. For example, the scientific name for European ash is Fraxinus excelsior L. The L in this case is an abbreviation for Linnaeus. Scientific names in Latin are uniformly accepted in the scientific world. A species within a genus may be referred to in general terms by the roman abbreviation sp. (plural spp.). Each wood of course has one or more common names in the local language, and this can lead to confusion through inconsistency. Use of scientific names is therefore advantageous, and reference to authoritative checklists for both scientific and common names is recommended. The scientific and common names of woods found in furniture are given by British Standards Institution (1974) and Little (1980).

The woods of most temperate zone trees can be identified to the genus, but among many genera the individual species cannot be distinguished on the basis of wood tissue alone. In such cases the wood is designated by the genus name followed by the abbreviation sp. For example, Picea sp. would indicate a species of spruce.

Within the plant kingdom, timber producing trees are found in the division Spermatophytes, the seed plants. Within this division are two classes, the Gymnosperms and Angiosperms. Trees belonging to the Gymnosperms (principally in the order Coniferales) are called softwoods. In the Angiosperms, a subclass known as 'dicots' (dicotyledonous plants) includes hardwoods.

Within the Angiosperms, a second subclass, the monocotyledons or 'monocots', includes such woody plants as palms, rattan and bamboo. Materials of these plant groups are not generally thought of under the term timber and are not included in this discussion. However, they are used extensively in some parts of the world, and those that are commonly encountered in furniture are discussed in Chapter 3.

Classification Plants Chart
Figure 2.3 Plant classification chart showing the relationship of genera of many common woods found in furniture
Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

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