Taxonomy

Taxonomy is both the science of classification and the language of botany. As a science, it facilitates identification, evaluation and specification by comparing shared and common qualities. As a language, taxonomy provides a Latin name for the plant, or a binomial label that systematizes across cultural and physical divides. Thus, the science of classification increases our understanding of the plant while the language of botany expands scholarship, generating a coherent global currency. This familiarity is recognized through evidence contained in a herbaria specimen. At once a science, a language, and an artifact, taxonomy establishes confidence that the natural World is known and that knowledge can be fixed. Each authoritative procedure informs our capacity to exploit, as plants are bought, sold, traded and specified through the exacting terms of taxonomy.
Landscape architects rely on the orders of taxonomy to shape planted environments. Although plant taxonomists and landscape architects share a common interest in the natural world, techniques and outcomes vary tremendously. Landscape practices depend upon familiarity with living plants, rather than data obtained from desiccated specimens or sampling methods. Designers aim to make their make practices comprehensible to a broad public, and to transmit imagination and speculation through experience. Manipulating the location, aspect, and form of an individual plant is a known practice; just as the maneuvering of water, earth and rock underpin our profession. Yet designers seldom interrogate the mutable characteristics of science, or question established procedural orders. When confronted with plants, designers tend to digress into botanical laymen, accepting the influence of taxonomy as an expertise that lies outside their field of knowledge. This limitation also extends to other scientific discords such as native and non-native dichotomies. In other words, the Held of landscape architecture is more comfortable manipulating the tangible world (soil, water and plants) than in manipulating the theory of science. This tendency facilitates the expanding distance between design and botanical speculation, delaying the advancement of a critical agenda on plant life. Outside of formal characteristics or classificatory status, perhaps the enjoyment of plants as live organisms with particular behaviors and mutable contexts is the territory of the landscape architect.
At the core of this book is a perspective on the relationship between identification and experience, according a more effective role to the latter. While taxonomy offers a window into a rich and wide-ranging history of knowledge, the herbaria specimen has gradually expired as a useful fool for expressing the behavioral and mutable characteristics of plant life. Taxonomy continues to expand the ordering of plants, but indexes do little to advance an understanding of the relationship between plants.  Yet, the binomial and the specimen continue to feature prominently. As environmental risk escalates and ecological scales become the new norm for sites, novel and experimental directions in planting are required in response. How can plant life re-engage with human knowledge through this thick tangle of cultural and scientific history?
 
 
 

Rosetta S. Elkin, tiny taxonomies at the Jardins du Métis Festival (2016)

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