The Botanical Review

, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 323–355 | Cite as

Numerical and comparative analyses of the modern systems of classification of the flowering plants

  • Alain Cuerrier
  • Luc Brouillet
  • Denis Barabé


The modern classifications of Cronquist, Dahlgren, Takhtajan, and Thorne have been compared with one another and also with those published at the beginning of the 20th century, which comprise the ones by Bessey, Engler, Gobi, and Hallier. Mantel and consensus tests have been used to compare the different matrices taken from the above classifications. Results indicate that all four modern classifications do not differ from one another statistically. Ordinal delimitation has not changed significantly for a century at least: Orders of the modern classifications are similar to those of the past classifications. However, the topology or structure of Cronquist’s and Takhtajan’s classifications differs from that of Bessey’s. Also, Engler’s dicotyledon classification is statistically different from those of the modern systems. Among past classifications, that of Hallier resembles the modern ones most. The resemblance among the modern classifications and, in general, with the past ones can be explained by the similarity in taxonomic principles and in the practice used. Two other factors help in explaining similarities among classifications: cognitive constraint and historical inertia. For instance, the Linnean scheme—upon which all botanical classifications are based—imposes on the latter a structure which allows only with difficulty and approximation the representation of taxon evolution. Moreover, not only have modern authors mutually influenced one another (particularly Cronquist/Takhtajan, Dahlgren/Thorne), but also they have been influenced by past authors. Indeed, modern classifications are a reshuffling of past ones. Also, Engler’s influence is great, especially at the ordinal level.

For changes and modifications to become effective in future classifications of flowering plants, one will have to minimize, if not avoid, the implicit influence of the modern systems as standard systems, and to count on, among others, molecular data in redefining taxonomic concepts founded on classical morphology, and consequently to remove the prudence that makes us look at classification as a useful convention for which one of the basic criteria remains the stability of taxa recognized long ago.


Botanical Review Mantel Test Single Linkage Input Matrix Modern System 
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Les classifications modernes de Cronquist, Dahlgren, Takhtajan et Thorne sont comparées entre elles et avec les principales classifications du début du XXe siècle, celles de Bessey, Engler, Gobi et Hallier. Les tests de Mantel et de consensus ont été utilisés pour permettre la comparaison des différentes matrices tirées des classifications mentionnées ci-dessus. Les résultats des comparaisons montrent que les quatre classifications modernes ne diffèrent pas statistiquement entre elles. La délimitation des ordres n’a pas changé de façon significative depuis au moins un siècle: les ordres des modernes sont semblables à ceux des anciens. Toutefois, la topologie des classifications de Cronquist et de Takhtajan s’éloigne de celle de Bessey. La classification des Dicotylédones d’Engler diffère de celles des modernes. Parmi les classifications anciennes, celle de Hallier ressemble le plus aux modernes. La grande ressemblance des modernes entre eux et avec les anciens s’explique par la similarité dans les principes et l’approche taxonomique utilisés. Deux autres facteurs expliquent cette similarité: la contrainte cognitive et l’inertie historique. D’une part, la structure linnéenne qui fonde les classifications botaniques actuelles, impose aux classifications une rigidité qui permet difficilement la représentation de l’évolution des taxons. D’autre part, non seulement les auteurs modernes se sontils mutuellement influencés (surtout Cronquist/Takhtajan, Dahlgren/Thorne), mais ils ont été influencés par les anciens. Les classifications modernes sont en fait un remaniement des anciennes. De plus, l’influence d’Engler est forte, surtout au niveau de la délimitation des ordres.

Les prochaines classifications des plantes à fleurs devront—pour que les changements se fassent sans contrainte — éviter l’influence implicite des systèmes modernes en tant que système-étalon, miser, entre autres, sur les données moléculaires pour redéfinir les concepts taxonomiques fondés sur la morphologie traditionnelle, et lever la prudence qui fait que l’on conçoit la classification comme une convention utile pour laquelle l’un des critères de base est la stabilité des taxons reconnus historiquement.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alain Cuerrier
    • 1
  • Luc Brouillet
    • 1
  • Denis Barabé
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut de Recherche en Biologie VégétaleUniversité de Montréal et Jardin Botanique de la Ville de MontréalMontréalCanada

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