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?
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