Answer: Not Lamarck(!)
Home » Answer: Not Lamarck(!)

Answer: Not Lamarck(!)

Answer: Not Lamarck(!)
Answer: Not Lamarck(!)

OK, that’s the answer, what was the question? Who invented the dichotomous key for identification? Well, as anybody who has taught students about keys and their use as tools for plant ID (or even for animals if you must!) will probably agree, the consensus is that the oft-derided French former botanist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck is credited with that honour, in 1778 (although curiously – presciently? – this factoid is not mentioned on Lamarck’s ‘official’ biography on Wikipedia). Well, Lawrence Griffing in his beautifully illustrated Special Paper makes a compelling case (this Englishman is convinced, anyway!) that the real credit belongs to Brit Richard Waller , in … 1689! I’m sure the French may not agree, but in that time-honoured British tradition of compromise (and trying to maintain some semblance of cordiale in the oft-strained trans-manche entente), how about this: Lamarck keeps credit for the first text-based dichot key, but Waller gets the kudos for the first image-based one?

Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that international plant science journal for almost 10 years. As a freelance plant science communicator I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Plant Cuttings [] (and formerly at Botany One []). In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]


  • Dear Phytophactor,

    Aha! Sorry, not imitation as you suggest (I was unaware of your post on this subject until your response to the post on the AoB Blog), but a case of great minds..? However, having now seen your post with its nice images, and in the spirit of maintaining that special relationship between our two countries – perhaps we can agree to compromise along the lines suggested in my post – you with your picture images and me with my ‘textual image’..?

    All the best!

    P Cuttings

Read this in your language

The Week in Botany

On Monday mornings we send out a newsletter of the links that have been catching the attention of our readers on Twitter and beyond. You can sign up to receive it below.

@BotanyOne on Mastodon

Loading Mastodon feed...