First I was fascinated and then absorbed by the rich spectacle of the meadows in springtime; then I was filled with wonder and delight by the marvellous shape, colour and structure of the individual plants.
While my eyes feasted on these sights, my mind too was stimulated. I became inspired with a passion for botany and I conceived a burning desire to become proficient in that study, from which I promised myself much innocent pleasure to sooth my solitude.’
Ray is best known for his work on plants. In his ‘Methodus Plantarum Nova’ – first essay in classification published in 1682 but based on earlier work – Ray describes the nature of buds as annual plants which spring from the old stock. He also recognised the important division of flowering plants into two families called Mono- and Di-cotyledones. He divided plants into Leguminosae, Palmaceae and Coniferae which we still use today.
Most significantly, basing his system largely upon the fruit, but also in part the flower and leaf, he made the first step towards the establishment of a natural system of classification. His system was so advanced that it was not recognised as a major scientific breakthrough and he himself continued to classify plants by the locality in which they grew, their use i.e. as a food, drug or ornament and then by the principal parts – flower, root, seed, saying ‘… the third is by far the best and most congruous with nature’.