Linnaeus developed a robust system for naming plants and a useful, if mechanical, system for classifying them. His binomial nomenclature proved the catalyst for the rapid development of our knowledge of orchids, with his work on the family dating back to 1737 in the first edition of his Genera Plantarum. His first work devoted to orchids, indeed the first monograph of the family, was published in 1740 and formed the basis for his account in Species Plantarum, published in 1753, in which he gave a binomial name to each species. Given the overwhelming number of orchids, he included surprisingly few - only 62 mostly European species - in Species Plantarum, his seminal work on the plants of the world. This reflects the European origin of modern botany and the concentration of extra-European exploration on other matters, such as conquest, gold and useful plants. Nevertheless, the scope of Linnaeus' work is broad, including plants from as far afield as India, Japan, China and the Philippines to the east, and eastern Canada, the West Indies and northern South America to the west. In his later publications he described and named a further 45 orchids, mostly from Europe, South Africa and the tropical Americas.
The philosophical basis of Linnaeus' work on orchids is discussed and his contribution to our knowledge of the family assessed. His generic and species concepts are considered in the light of current systematic ideas, but his adoption of binomial nomenclature for all plants is his lasting legacy.