Since we discuss the scientific names of species a lot, I thought some here might be interested in this review of a new book just published in this 300th birth year of Linnaeus. --Lee Poulsen Pasadena, California, USDA Zone 10a Nature 448, 868-869 (23 August 2007) | doi:///10.1038/448868b; Published online 22 August 2007 Linnaeus lives on Pamela S. Soltis BOOK REVIEWED Order out of Chaos: Linnaean Plant Names and their Types by C. Jarvis The Linnean Society of London: 2007. 1,016 pp. £80 The relevance of taxonomy in our genomic era is greater than ever. Correct naming is crucial for developing new foods and medicines, and for understanding our changing environment. Amazingly, we do not even know how many species of flowering plant currently exist. Estimates range from about 250,000 to more than 400,000, and every day species are lost to human activities. Conservation, in natural habitats or botanical gardens, relies on scientific names, as does the rest of science. Before Carl Linnaeus, species names ranged from cumbersome to unwieldy. For example, Arbutus caule erecto, foliis glabris serratis, baccis polyspermis was as good as it got for 'Arbutus with upright stems, hairless, saw-toothed leaves, and many-seeded berries'. Linnaeus's binomial system of nomenclature changed all that. Species could now have a genus name plus a specific epithet. 'The father of taxonomy' applied his revolutionary system to plants in Species Plantarum, published in 1753, and to animals in the tenth edition of Systema Naturae in 1758. More than 250 years later, the name of a species remains the key that unlocks all that is known about it. In honour of Linnaeus's 300th birthday, Charlie Jarvis's handsome new book, Order out of Chaos, gives us a glimpse into pre-linnaean botany, Linnaeus's life and work, and the reception and impact of his ideas in eighteenth-century Europe. Linnaeus was an avid collector and classifier of 'animals, vegetables and minerals'. He named and described his collections and the many specimens that were returned to Europe from exploration of other parts of the globe. His plant names are the starting point for valid names that follow botanical nomenclature. To be valid, a species name must be attached to one reference or 'type' specimen. This concept was implemented 150 years after Species Plantarum, so — ironically — most of the names assigned by Linnaeus himself do not have clearly associated specimens. Enter the Linnaean Plant Name Typification Project, launched in 1981 at the London Natural History Museum to match Linnaeus's thousands of designations with the specimens and illustrations in his work. Jarvis's book chronicles this project and presents nearly 700 pages of names and their types — from Abrus precatorius L. to Zygophyllum spinosum L. Jarvis and his colleagues scoured museums and private collections to create this wonderful reference for all those involved in taxonomy. The book is a work of art. Even non-botanists will be seduced by this inviting package. The text is peppered with photographs and illustrations of spectacular examples of plant diversity and linnaean memorabilia. Figures range from a photograph of Linnaeus's signature and seal from 1734, to an illustration of the wild woodland twinflower (Linnaea borealis), to Georg Dionysius Ehret's (1736) illustration of Linnaeus's 'Sexual System' of plant classification. The appreciation for history in plant systematics is evident in this book and in the attention being paid to Linnaeus during 2007. Even the controversy between those who favour the continued use of linnaean classification and advocates of the PhyloCode (the system that relies on evolutionary history) does not diminish Linnaeus's contribution. This book is a timely homage to linnaean names and the efforts of Jarvis's team, as systematists look for new ways to provide the richest classification systems.