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Ray, John

taxonomy plants species naturalist

(1627–1705) English naturalist: pioneer of plant taxonomy.

Ray’s father was the village blacksmith and his mother a herbalist at Black Notley in Essex; the boy went to Cambridge at 16 and taught classics there after his graduation. His university career was ended after the Civil War when he refused to conform to new laws on religious observance. He was already a keen naturalist, and from 1662 he was supported by his wealthy ex-pupil and fellow-naturalist, F Willughby (1635–72). They toured Europe as well as England to study both flora and fauna. Ray used a taxonomic system which emphasizes the division of plants into cryptogams (flowerless plants), monocotyledons and dicotyledons, the basic scheme used today. His major work on botany covers some 18 600 species, with much information on each. He saw the species as the fundamental unit of taxonomy, although he eventually realized that species are not immutable. His taxonomy was not surpassed until the work of . Ray was ahead of his time in his view that fossils are petrified remains of plants and animals, an idea not accepted until a century later. Willughby died in 1672, and Ray lived on in his house, but eventually quarrelled with his widow and returned to Black Notley to write on a variety of matters, including travel, proverbs and natural history.

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