John Ray was a highly influential English naturalist and botanist whose contributions to taxonomy are considered groundbreaking and historic. He is also well-known in the world of botany for the establishment of species as the ultimate unit of taxonomy.
Early Life and Education:
Born on 29 November in 1627 in a small village of Black Notley, Essex, John Ray’s father was a blacksmith. Ray attended a grammar school and then entered the Cambridge University at the young age of sixteen.
Contributions and Achievements:
John Ray was selected as a Fellow of Trinity College in 1649. However, he lost the position thirteen years later when, in 1662 and with strong Puritan views, he declined to take the oath to the Act of Uniformity after the Restoration. With full support of his former student and fellow naturalist, Francis Willoughby, Ray made several trips throughout Europe with him, carrying out research in the fields of botany and zoology.
Ray formulated the fundamental principles of plant classification into cryptogams, monocotyledons and dicotyledons in his landmark works “Catalogus plantarum Angliae” (Catalog of English Plants) in 1670 and “Methodus plantarum nova” (A method for New Plants) in 1682.
He thus divided plants into three groups:
- Cryptogams, plants that reproduce by spores, without flowers or seeds
- Monocotyledons, flowering plants whose seeds typically contain only one embryonic leaf
- Dicotyledons flowering plants whose seeds have two embryonic leaves.
Other major publications of Ray include his three large volumes of “Historia generalis plantarum” (General history of plants) published between 1686 and 1704 and “The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation” published in 1691. Both works were influential during their time.
The zoological contributions of Ray include the development of the most natural pre-Linnaean classification of the animal kingdom. He was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1667. Ray endorsed scientific empiricism as compared to the deductive rationalism of the scholastics.
His final work, an investigation of insects, was published posthumously as “Historia Insectorum”.
Later Life and Death:
In his later years, Ray moved to his native village, where he remained until his death on 17 January in 1705. He was 77 years old. The Ray Society was established in his honor in 1844.