The Linnaean System
Systematics Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral

Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral

Phylogeny and Systematics
   Systematics — History of ideas
      The Great Chain of Being
      Linnaean taxonomy
      The Tree of Life
      Evolutionary systematics
      Molecular phylogeny

Linnaean taxonomy
   Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral
      The Linnaean system
      The Linnaean Taxonomic Hierarchy
      What's in a name?
      Infra-orders and Super-families
      The Splitters and the Lumpers
      Taxonomic Inflation
   Extra ranks

Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man

Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, from Doom Patrol #89.

Art by Bob Brown.

The division of familiar objects into animal, vegetable and mineral probably dates back to prehistory, and it is commonplace to hear the phrase “animal kingdom” or “plant kingdom.” Most students will be aware, also, of the landmark contribution made by the Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus (and variations on that spelling) in the mid-1700s.

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In his Systema Naturae (first ed. 1735; 10th ed. 1758) Linnaeus established three kingdoms, namely Regnum Animale, Regnum Vegetabile and Regnum Lapideum, or Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral (a typology that can be derived from ideas regarding the great chain of being), each divided into five ranks: kingdom, class, order, genus, and species. Traces of the Aristotlean system can be seen in the distinction of genus and species, and calling categories classes, while the intermediate level of "order" shows a medieval origin, for example orders of monks.

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Of the three kingdoms, only in the Animal Kingdom is the higher taxonomy of Linnaeus still more or less recognizable. He divided the Animal Kingdom into six classes; in the tenth edition (1758), these are:

The orders and classes for the Plant Kingdom, emphasising the sexual organs of plants, was never intended to represent natural groups but only for use in identification (for example species with the same number of stamens were placed in the same class). They were used in that sense well into the nineteenth century. These are:

Page from Linnaeus's Systema naturae

Page 837 from the 10th edition (1758) of Linnaeus's Systema naturae, classifying plants in terms of an arbitrary "sexual system" ., via Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 license.

His taxonomy of the Mineral Kingdom has dropped long since from use. In the tenth edition, 1758, of the Systema Naturæ, the Linnaean classes were:

The work of Linnaeus had a huge impact on science; it was indispensable as a foundation for biological nomenclature, now regulated by the Nomenclature Codes. Two of his works, the first edition of the Species Plantarum (1753) for plants and the tenth edition of the Systema Naturæ (1758) are accepted among the starting points of nomenclature; most of his names for species and genera were published at very early dates and thus take priority over those of others. Although his taxonomy was not particularly notable in itself (for example the artificial classification of plants), Linnaeus' talent for attracting skillful young students and sending them abroad to collect made his works far more influential than that of his contemporaries. At the close of the 18th century, his system had effectively become the standard system for biological classification.


Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral became a way of classifying and understanding nature even for those who had never heard of Linnaeus (there was even a parlour game and a comic book based on this). In addition to the three kingdoms, a separate human kingdom added (due to the anthropocentric approach of religious thought; this was something Linnaeus did fall for) is still used in a number of religious, spiritual, esoteric and occult systems of thought: the Baha'i faith, Anthroposophy, Rosicrucianism, and contemporary Sufism and the Neo-Sufi Traditionalist or "perennialist" movement. It is assumed here that there is a natural succession from inert mineral to the plant that is alive but not sentient to the animal that has awareness but not reason. Hence the human kingdom as the next rung on the ladder of being. It is easy to see here the influence of Aristotle. This arrangement of the "kingdoms of nature" were modified by the theosophists, who proposed a number of spiritual involutionary kingdoms that represent the downward antecedent of the "evolutionary" kingdoms of plants, animals and man.

Modern science however has rendered the traditional three kingdom idea obsolete. First the mineral kingdom has been replaced by the hierarchy of particles, atoms, and molecules. This led some "Great Chain of Being" universalists such as Edward Haskell and co-workers (Unified Science) and Arthur M. Young (The Reflexive Universe) added further kingdoms like subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, etc before the mineral.


Today we still use a derived form of the categories first published by Linnaeus, although much of the detail has changed. For example, many single-celled organisms – none of which were known to Linnaeus – are regarded as belonging to a kingdom of their own, the Protista, which stands alongside the Animalia and Plantae. The fungi are no longer considered plants; they too have a kingdom to themselves.

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More recently the plant and animal kingdoms were replaced by the five kingdom model of Whittaker (monera, protist, fungi, plant, and animal (including human)), and then the three domains of Carl Woese. Through studies of the genomes of a wide range of organisms, Woese discovered that protists, plants, animals and fungi, collectively known as the Eukarya, are all relatively similar to one another, compared to the far more fundamental differences dividing them from two great lineages of bacteria, the Archaea and the Bacteria. Together these make up the three “domains” – the Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya –, which are now considered the most fundamental divisions of living things.

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