Carl Linnaeus was born at Råshult, in the province of Smalandia
in southern Sweden. Like his father and maternal grandfather, Linnaeus
was groomed as a youth to be a churchman, but he showed little enthusiasm
for it. His interest in botany impressed a physician from his town and
he was sent to study at Lund University, transferring to Uppsala University
after one year. Linné died in Uppsala.
time Linnaeus became convinced that in the stamens and pistils of flowers
lay the basis for the classification of plants, and he wrote a short
work on the subject that earned him the position of adjunct professor.
Carl Linnaeus liked to wear a dress he got by the natives in LaplandIn
1732 the Academy of Sciences at Uppsala financed his expedition to explore
Lapland, then virtually unknown. The result of this was the Flora Laponica
published in 1737.
Linnaeus moved to the continent. While in the Netherlands he met Jan
Frederik Gronovius and showed him a draft of his work on taxonomy, the
Systema Naturae. In it, the unwieldy descriptions mostly used at the
time, such as "physalis amno ramosissime ramis angulosis glabris
foliis dentoserratis", were replaced by the concise and now familiar
genus-species names in the form Physalis angulata. Higher taxa were
constructed and arranged in a simple and orderly manner. Although the
system now known as binomial nomenclature was developed by the Bauhin
brothers (see Gaspard Bauhin and Johann Bauhin) almost 200 years earlier,
Linnaeus may be said to have popularized it within the scientific community.
taxa in ways that personally struck him as common-sensical; for example,
human beings are Homo sapiens (see sapience), but he also described
a second human species, Homo troglodytes ("cave-dwelling man",
by which he meant the chimpanzee currently most often placed in a different
genus as Pan troglodytes).
"mammalia" are named for their mammary glands because one
of the defining characteristics of mammals is that they nurse their
young. Of all the features distinguishing the mammals from other animals,
Linnaeus may have picked this one because of his views on the importance
of natural motherhood. He campaigned against the practice of wet-nursing,
declaring that even aristocratic women should be proud to nurse their
Autograph of Carl v. Linné (Carolus Linnaeus)In 1739 Linnaeus
married Sara Morea, daughter of a physician. He ascended to the chair
of medicine at Uppsala two years later, soon exchanging it for the chair
of Botany. He continued to work on his classifications, extending them
to the kingdom of animals and the kingdom of minerals. The last strikes
us as somewhat odd, but the theory of evolution was still a long time
away, and indeed, the Lutheran Linnaeus would have been horrified by
it. Linnaeus was only attempting a convenient way of categorizing the
elements of the natural world.
king, Adolf Fredrik, ennobled Linnaeus in 1757, and after the privy
council had confirmed the ennoblement Linnaeus took the surname von
Linné, later often signing just Carl Linné. His father,
born Nils Ingemarsson, had adopted the Latin surname Linnaeus as more
appropriate for a clergyman on his matriculation at Lund University;
the name deriving from the lime  tree after which the family farm,
Linnagård, took its name.
Although taxonomists, in almost any biological field, are familiar with
the work of Carolus Linnaeus, his contribution to taxonomy goes far
beyond contributing so-called scientific names to many of the world's
plants and animals. Linnaeus developed, during the great 18th century
expansion of natural history knowledge, what became known as the Linnaean
taxonomy: the system of scientific classification now widely used in
the biological sciences.
system classified living things within a hierarchy, starting with two
kingdoms. Kingdoms were divided into classes and they, in turn, into
orders, families, genera (singular: genus), and species (singular: species).
Since then a few other ranks have been added, most notably phyla (singular:
phylum) or divisions between kingdoms and classes. Groups of organisms
at any rank are now called taxa (singular: taxon) or taxonomic groups.
were based upon shared physical characteristics. Although the groupings
themselves have been significantly changed since Linnaeus' conception,
as well as the principles behind them, he is credited with establishing
the idea of a hierarchical structure of classification based upon observable
also a pioneer in defining the (controversial) concept of "race".
He proposed that inside of Homo sapiens, there were four subcategories.
These categories, Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeanus were
based on place of origin at first, and later skin color. Each race had
certain characteristics that members supposedly had. Native Americans
were reddish, stubborn, and angered easily. Africans were black, relaxed
and negligent. Asians were sallow, avaricious, and easily distracted.
Europeans were white, gentle, and inventive. Linnaeus's races were clearly
skewed in favour of Europeans. Over time, this classification led to
a racial hierarchy, in which Europeans were at the top.
Linnaeus is one of the finest prose writers in Swedish. His travel journals
contain pithy notes on everything of interest he encountered, not just
plants. He didn't just write from personal interest, but as a reporter
to the enlightened scientific and political public. His journey to sub-Arctic
Lapland is notable for exotic and adventurous episodes. He also composed
some down-to-earth sex-instruction lectures published as "Om sättet
att tillhopa gå" [How to go together].
Linnaeus' original botanical garden may still be seen in Uppsala.
He originated the practice of using the ? - (shield and arrow) Mars
and ? - (hand mirror) Venus glyphs as the symbol for male and female.
Linnaeus was instrumental in the development of the Celsius (then called
Centigrade) temperature scale. Anders Celsius had proposed using 0 as
the boiling point of water, and 100 as the freezing point; Linneaus
inverted it to the form we are familiar with today .
Linnaeus was one of the founders of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Linnaeus is the only human being customarily referred to by a single
initial. In botany, the name (often partly abbreviated) of the person
who described a species follows immediately after the scientific name:
Cocos nucifera L. is the complete scientific name for the coconut, with
the "L." referring to Carolus Linnaeus.
Linnaeus was said to be a man of great social skills. Karlfeldt's words
"han talte med bönder på bönders vis, och med lärde
män på latin" [he talked to peasants as peasants do,
and to learned men in Latin] give a good characterization of his manner.
also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus, is often called
the Father of Taxonomy. His system for naming, ranking, and classifying
organisms is still in wide use today (with many changes). His ideas
on classification have influenced generations of biologists during and
after his own lifetime, even those opposed to the philosophical and
theological roots of his work.
He was born
on May 23, 1707, at Stenbrohult, in the province of Småland in
southern Sweden. His father, Nils Ingemarsson Linnaeus, was both an
avid gardener and a Lutheran pastor, and Carl showed a deep love of
plants and a fascination with their names from a very early age. Carl
disappointed his parents by showing neither aptitude nor desire for
the priesthood, but his family was somewhat consoled when Linnaeus entered
the University of Lund in 1727 to study medicine. A year later, he transferred
to the University of Uppsala, the most prestigious university in Sweden.
However, its medical facilities had been neglected and had fallen into
disrepair. Most of Linaeus's time at Uppsala was spent collecting and
studying plants, his true love. At the time, training in botany was
part of the medical curriculum, for every doctor had to prepare and
prescribe drugs derived from medicinal plants. Despite being in hard
financial straits, Linnaeus mounted a botanical and ethnographical expedition
to Lapland in 1731 (the portrait above shows Linnaeus as a young man,
wearing a version of the traditional Lapp costume and holding a shaman's
drum). In 1734 he mounted another expedition to central Sweden.
Linnaeus went to the Netherlands in 1735, promptly finished his medical
degree at the University of Harderwijk, and then enrolled in the University
of Leiden for further studies. That same year, he published the first
edition of his classification of living things, the Systema Naturae.
During these years, he met or corresponded with Europe's great botanists,
and continued to develop his classification scheme. Returning to Sweden
in 1738, he practiced medicine (specializing in the treatment of syphilis)
and lectured in Stockholm before being awarded a professorship at Uppsala
in 1741. At Uppsala, he restored the University's botanical garden (arranging
the plants according to his system of classification), made three more
expeditions to various parts of Sweden, and inspired a generation of
students. He was instrumental in arranging to have his students sent
out on trade and exploration voyages to all parts of the world: nineteen
of Linnaeus's students went out on these voyages of discovery. Perhaps
his most famous student, Daniel Solander, was the naturalist on Captain
James Cook's first round-the-world voyage, and brought back the first
plant collections from Australia and the South Pacific to Europe. Anders
Sparrman, another of Linnaeus's students, was a botanist on Cook's second
voyage. Another student, Pehr Kalm, traveled in the northeastern American
colonies for three years studying American plants. Yet another, Carl
Peter Thunberg, was the first Western naturalist to visit Japan in over
a century; he not only studied the flora of Japan, but taught Western
medicine to Japanese practicioners. Still others of his students traveled
to South America, southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Many
died on their travels.
Linnaeus continued to revise his Systema Naturae, which grew from a
slim pamphlet to a multivolume work, as his concepts were modified and
as more and more plant and animal specimens were sent to him from every
corner of the globe. (The image at right shows his scientific description
of the human species from the ninth edition of Systema Naturae. At the
time he referred to humanity as Homo diurnis, or "man of the day".
Click on the image to see an enlargement.) Linnaeus was also deeply
involved with ways to make the Swedish economy more self-sufficient
and less dependent on foreign trade, either by acclimatizing valuable
plants to grow in Sweden, or by finding native substitutes. Unfortunately,
Linnaeus's attempts to grow cacao, coffee, tea, bananas, rice, and mulberries
proved unsuccessful in Sweden's cold climate. His attempts to boost
the economy (and to prevent the famines that still struck Sweden at
the time) by finding native Swedish plants that could be used as tea,
coffee, flour, and fodder were also not generally successful. He still
found time to practice medicine, eventually becoming personal physician
to the Swedish royal family. In 1758 he bought the manor estate of Hammarby,
outside Uppsala, where he built a small museum for his extensive personal
collections. In 1761 he was granted nobility, and became Carl von Linné.
His later years were marked by increasing depression and pessimism.
Lingering on for several years after suffering what was probably a series
of mild strokes in 1774, he died in 1778. His son, also named Carl,
succeeded to his professorship at Uppsala, but never was noteworthy
as a botanist. When Carl the Younger died five years later with no heirs,
his mother and sisters sold the elder Linnaeus's library, manuscripts,
and natural history collections to the English natural historian Sir
James Edward Smith, who founded the Linnean Society of London to take
care of them.
Linnaeus loved nature deeply, and always retained a sense of wonder
at the world of living things. His religious beliefs led him to natural
theology, a school of thought dating back to Biblical times but especially
flourishing around 1700: since God has created the world, it is possible
to understand God's wisdom by studying His creation. As he wrote in
the preface to a late edition of Systema Naturae: Creationis telluris
est gloria Dei ex opere Naturae per Hominem solum -- The Earth's creation
is the glory of God, as seen from the works of Nature by Man alone.
The study of nature would reveal the Divine Order of God's creation,
and it was the naturalist's task to construct a "natural classification"
that would reveal this Order in the universe.
However, Linnaeus's plant taxonomy was based solely on the number and
arrangement of the reproductive organs; a plant's class was determined
by its stamens (male organs), and its order by its pistils (female organs).
This resulted in many groupings that seemed unnatural. For instance,
Linnaeus's Class Monoecia, Order Monadelphia included plants with separate
male and female "flowers" on the same plant (Monoecia) and
with multiple male organs joined onto one common base (Monadelphia).
This order included conifers such as pines, firs, and cypresses (the
distinction between true flowers and conifer cones was not clear), but
also included a few true flowering plants, such as the castor bean.
"Plants" without obvious sex organs were classified in the
Class Cryptogamia, or "plants with a hidden marriage," which
lumped together the algae, lichens, fungi, mosses and other bryophytes,
and ferns. Linnaeus freely admitted that this produced an "artificial
classification," not a natural one, which would take into account
all the similarities and differences between organisms. But like many
naturalists of the time, in particular Erasmus Darwin, Linnaeus attached
great significance to plant sexual reproduction, which had only recently
been rediscovered. Linnaeus drew some rather astonishing parallels between
plant sexuality and human love: he wrote in 1729 how
The flowers' leaves. . . serve as bridal beds which the Creator has
so gloriously arranged, adorned with such noble bed curtains, and perfumed
with so many soft scents that the bridegroom with his bride might there
celebrate their nuptials with so much the greater solemnity. . .
The sexual basis of Linnaeus's plant classification was controversial
in its day; although easy to learn and use, it clearly did not give
good results in many cases. Some critics also attacked it for its sexually
explicit nature: one opponent, botanist Johann Siegesbeck, called it
"loathsome harlotry". (Linnaeus had his revenge, however;
he named a small, useless European weed Siegesbeckia.) Later systems
of classification largely follow John Ray's practice of using morphological
evidence from all parts of the organism in all stages of its development.
What has survived of the Linnean system is its method of hierarchical
classification and custom of binomial nomenclature.
For Linnaeus, species of organisms were real entities, which could be
grouped into higher categories called genera (singular, genus). By itself,
this was nothing new; since Aristotle, biologists had used the word
genus for a group of similar organisms, and then sought to define the
differentio specifica -- the specific difference of each type of organism.
But opinion varied on how genera should be grouped. Naturalists of the
day often used arbitrary criteria to group organisms, placing all domestic
animals or all water animals together. Part of Linnaeus' innovation
was the grouping of genera into higher taxa that were also based on
shared similarities. In Linnaeus's original system, genera were grouped
into orders, orders into classes, and classes into kingdoms. Thus the
kingdom Animalia contained the class Vertebrata, which contained the
order Primates, which contained the genus Homo with the species sapiens
-- humanity. Later biologists added additional ranks between these to
express additional levels of similarity.
Before Linnaeus, species naming practices varied. Many biologists gave
the species they described long, unwieldy Latin names, which could be
altered at will; a scientist comparing two descriptions of species might
not be able to tell which organisms were being referred to. For instance,
the common wild briar rose was referred to by different botanists as
Rosa sylvestris inodora seu canina and as Rosa sylvestris alba cum rubore,
folio glabro. The need for a workable naming system was made even greater
by the huge number of plants and animals that were being brought back
to Europe from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. After experimenting with
various alternatives, Linnaeus simplified naming immensely by designating
one Latin name to indicate the genus, and one as a "shorthand"
name for the species. The two names make up the binomial ("two
names") species name. For instance, in his two-volume work Species
Plantarum (The Species of Plants), Linnaeus renamed the briar rose Rosa
canina. This binomial system rapidly became the standard system for
naming species. Zoological and most botanical taxonomic priority begin
with Linnaeus: the oldest plant names accepted as valid today are those
published in Species Plantarum, in 1753, while the oldest animal names
are those in the tenth edition of Systema Naturae (1758), the first
edition to use the binomial system consistently throughout. Although
Linnaeus was not the first to use binomials, he was the first to use
them consistently, and for this reason, Latin names that naturalists
used before Linnaeus are not usually considered valid under the rules
In his early years, Linnaeus believed that the species was not only
real, but unchangeable -- as he wrote, Unitas in omni specie ordinem
ducit (The invariability of species is the condition for order [in nature]).
But Linnaeus observed how different species of plant might hybridize,
to create forms which looked like new species. He abandoned the concept
that species were fixed and invariable, and suggested that some -- perhaps
most -- species in a genus might have arisen after the creation of the
world, through hybridization. In his attempts to grow foreign plants
in Sweden, Linnaeus also theorized that plant species might be altered
through the process of acclimitization. Towards the end of his life,
Linnaeus investigated what he thought were cases of crosses between
genera, and suggested that, perhaps, new genera might also arise through
Was Linnaeus an evolutionist? It is true that he abandoned his earlier
belief in the fixity of species, and it is true that hybridization has
produced new species of plants, and in some cases of animals. Yet to
Linnaeus, the process of generating new species was not open-ended and
unlimited. Whatever new species might have arisen from the primae speciei,
the original species in the Garden of Eden, were still part of God's
plan for creation, for they had always potentially been present. Linnaeus
noticed the struggle for survival -- he once called Nature a "butcher's
block" and a "war of all against all". However, he considered
struggle and competition necessary to maintain the balance of nature,
part of the Divine Order. The concept of open-ended evolution, not necessarily
governed by a Divine Plan and with no predetermined goal, never occurred
to Linnaeus; the idea would have shocked him. Nevertheless, Linnaeus's
hierarchical classification and binomial nomenclature, much modified,
have remained standard for over 200 years. His writings have been studied
by every generation of naturalists, including Erasmus Darwin and Charles
Darwin. The search for a "natural system" of classification
is still going on -- except that what systematists try to discover and
use as the basis of classification is now the evolutionary relationships
also called Carl Linnaeus, was born on May 23, 1707 in Rashult, Sweden.
Linnaeus began to appreciate plants and flowers at a young age. By the
time he was eight years old, he was being called "the little botanist."
received his degree in medicine from the University of Uppsala, and
he also studied at the University of Lund. Upon graduation from Uppsala,
Linnaeus was appointed botany lecturer at the university.
Linnaeus traveled to Lapland to conduct explorations. His findings were
published in Amsterdam in 1737, under the title Flora Lapponica and
reprinted in English under the title Lachesis Lapponica. In 1735, Linnaeus
published Systema Naturae, and in 1737, Genera Plantarum. These works,
which introduced a system for classifying species of plants, firmly
established Linnaeus' reputation.
Linnaeus set up a successful medical practice in Stockholm, and in 1739,
he married Sara Moraea. He continued to practice medicine, teach botany,
and produce works that systematized plants, animals, and minerals. His
writings included Hortus Cliffortinaus (1736), Flora Suecica (1745),
Fauna Suecica (1746), and many others. In 1753, he published Specieis
Plantarum, which was considered one of his most important works. Linnaeus
was granted a Swedish patent of nobility in 1761.
Linnaeus had a stroke, and he died on January 10, 1778.