Linnaeus (or von Linné), Carl

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Linnaeus (or von Linné), Carl

(b. Södra Råshult, Småland, Sweden, 23 May 1707;d, Uppsala, Sweden, 10 January 1778),

botany, zoology, geology, medicine.

During his lifetime, Linnaeus exerted an influence in his fields—botany and natural history—that has had few parallels in the history of science. Driven by indomitable ambition and aided by an incredible capacity for work, he accomplished the tremendous task that he had set for himself in his youth: the establishment of new systems for the three kingdoms of nature to facilitate the description of all known animals, plants, and minerals.

His father, Nils Linnaeus, a country parson in the south Swedish province of Småland, settled in 1709 in Stenbrohult, where Linnaeus grew up. The father was a great lover of flowers and laid out a beautiful garden in the parsonage grounds. He also introduced his son to the mysteries of botany. In 1716 Linnaeus entered the Latin School in the nearby cathedral city of Växjö, and from that time natural history remained his favorite study. An average boy, he was set apart only by his delight in botanizing and learning about plants.

Of great importance for Linnaeus’ future development was an outstanding teacher during his last years at Växjö, Johan Roth man, who encouraged his aptitude for botany and taught him Tournefort’s system. In 1727 he entered the University of Lund to study medicine. Medical instruction was poor there, but during his stay Linnaeus undertook extensive botanical excursions in the surrounding area and met Kilian Stobaeus, one of the many patrons who helped him in his youth. A medical doctor and a learned polymath, Stobaeus placed his rich library and his collection of natural specimens at Linnaeus’ disposition.

In the fall of 1728 Linnaeus went on to the University of Uppsala, lured by its greater reputation. On the whole he must have been disappointed, for the medical faculty was not much better than at Lund. Although he came to rely mostly on his own, independently acquired abilities as a botanist and natural historian, the atmosphere of Uppsala was in many ways useful. The botanical garden, although somewhat neglected, contained rare foreign plants, and he found influential promoters: the elderly professor of medicine Olof Rudbeck the younger, formerly an outstanding botanist and zoologist, and the learned Olof Celsius, with whom Linnaeus studied the flora of the surrounding region.

Around 1730 Linnaeus matured as a researcher and began delineating the fundamental features of his botanical reform. In a series of manuscripts, unpublished at the time, he noted the results of his observations and thoughts. He had already found the tool with which to construct a new system of plant taxonomy—the new theory of plant sexuality. At this time Linnaeus’ sexual system first appeared, still incomplete, in a manuscript version of his Hortus uplandicus (1730).

Linnaeus barely supported himself during this period by substituting for Rudbeck in conducting demonstrations at the botanical garden and by giving private lessons. In the spring of 1732, sponsored by the Uppsala Society of Science, he made a trip to Lapland that lasted until the fall. His account of the journey (first published in English translation in 1811) gives vivid evidence of his joy in the unfamiliar world of the Scandinavian mountains, in which he studied the unknown alpine flora and Lapp Customs. Two years later (1734) he undertook another, more modest study trip in the Dalarna region of central Sweden. He constantly revised his manuscripts and widened his teaching activities with courses in mineralogy and assaying. In the spring of 1735 Linnaeus left Sweden—with a Lapp costume, a troll-drum, and unpublished manuscripts in his luggage— to obtain the M.D. in Holland. At the University of Harderwijk he defended a thesis on the causes of ague, received his degree, and went on to Leiden.

Linnaeus’ sojourn in Holland lasted until 1738. It was a period of uninterrupted success in approaching his goal of being acknowledged as Europe’s outstanding botanist. Learned and wealthy patrons continued to help him: Boerhaave, J. F. Gronovius in Leiden, and the botanist Jan Burman in Amsterdam fostered Linnaeus’ plans and helped to see his works through to publication. During a short visit to England in 1736 he met Sir Hans Sloane and J. J. Dillenius, Most of the time he stayed with George Clifford, a wealthy merchant who established an incomparable botanical garden at the Hartekamp, near Haarlem; as its superintendent Linnaeus could concentrate on his botanical work.

Linnaeus’ literary production during his three years in Holland is astonishing. Most of the works had been nearly finished in Sweden; but others, such as Hartus Clijforfiamts (1737), a beautiful folio on the plants in Clifford’s garden and greenhouse, were newly composed. Linnaeus’ key work, and the first to be published in Holland, was Systema naturae (1735). On seven folio leaves he presented in a schematic arrangement his new system for the animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms; the plants were arranged according to the sexual system that this work first made known to the scientific world. In the small Fundamenta botanica (1736) Linnaeus put forward with dictatorial authority his theory for systematic botany, and in Bibliotheca botanica he listed the botanical literature in systematic fashion. Other works of this period are Flora lapponica (1737), in which he described his botanical collections from the Lapland journey; Crifka botanica (1737), with rules for botanical nomenclature; Classes plantation (1738), in which he reviewed the various plant systems going back to Cesalpino; and Genera plantarum (1737), which, next to Systema naturae, is his outstanding early work and contains short descriptions of all 935 plant genera known at the time.

Linnaeus then set out for Sweden via Paris, where he visited the brothers Jussieu, and by June 1738 he was back in his native country. His foreign triumphs had not gone unnoticed; but no academic position awaited him, and he was obliged to become a practicing physician in Stockholm. He married Sara Elisabeth Moraea, the daughter of a wealthy city physician. In 1739 he was appointed physician to the admiralty and was one of the moving powers in the founding of the Swedish Academy of Science in Stockholm, of which he became the first president and eventually the most outstanding member.

A new phase of Linnaeus’ life began in the spring of 1741. After a rather scandalous fight for tenure he was appointed professor of practical medicine at the University of Uppsala; in 1742, through a sort of job exchange, he took over the more suitable chair of botany, dietetics, and materia medica. For the rest of his life Linnaeus remained in Uppsala as professor of medicine, while his fame as premier botanist spread throughout the world.

One of his first tasks was to renovate the university’s neglected botanical garden, founded in 1655 by Rudbeck the elder. Remodeled in French style with formal parterres and an ornamental orangery, it was filled over the years with innumerable plants from Europe and distant parts of the world. Linnaeus spent the rest of his life in the professorial residence in a corner of the garden.

As a teacher and supervisor Linnaeus was incomparable. Students flocked to his lectures, which were characterized by humor and the presentation of unusual ideas, and which included the whole of botany and natural history. He liked dealing with what he called “the natural diet,” that is, man’s way of living under the pressure of civilization. In private seminars he gave deeper insights into his botanical thought His botanical excursions held near Uppsala were immensely popular; these herbationes were organized according to a fixed ritual: on the return home the participants marched in closed formation to the music of French horns and drums.

Linnaeus took an unselfish and devoted interest in his more mature students, supporting and encouraging them. He persuaded an imposing number of them to obtain the doctorate, but he usually wrote their theses himself (collected under the title Amoenitates academicae I-VII [1749 1769]; V1I1-X [1785-1790]).

From 1759 Linnaeus was assisted by his son Carl von Linné the younger, who had been appointed botanical demonstrator and who succeeded his father. Linnaeus occasionally worked for the royal court: he described the valuable natural history collections at Ulriksdal and at the castle of Drottningholm, and charmed the discerning queen, Lovisa Ulrika, by his unaffected manner. On the whole he had an unerring instinct for profitable social connections; he counted among his friends and admirers the country’s outstanding cultural leaders, including the president of the chancellery, Carl Gustaf Tessin,

Linnaeus was in contact with the world’s botanists and collectors of natural history specimens. He corresponded with them and received seeds for his garden and plants for his herbarium, which became very extensive. He became a member of innumerable foreign scientific societies (he was one of the eight foreign members of the Paris Academy in 1762) and received distinctions and honors in Sweden; in 1747 he was appointed court physician and in 1762 he was elevated to the nobility as von Linné. In later years he traveled every summer to Hammarby, his small estate outside Uppsala; there, free from academic chores, he devoted himself to botany or taught selected students.

Linnaeus’ research work during his mature years began with trips to various Swedish provinces. By order of the parliament, which wanted an inventory of all the natural resources of the country, during three summers in the 1740’s Linnaeus traveled through selected areas to describe them and to search for dyestuffs, minerals, clay, and other economically useful substances. His reports of these expeditions were published as Ölandska och gothländska resa (1745), Västgöta resa (1747), and Skånska resa (1751), all written in Swedish. Nothing escaped his attention on his travels on horseback—plants and insects, runic stones and other ancient remnants, farmers working in the fields and meadows, the changes in the weather. His prose style was simple and strong, sometimes rising to lyrical outbursts or spiced with effective similes.

But Linnaeus’ main mission was to complete his reform of botany. In the work produced during his stay in Holland he had established the principles, maintained more or less unchanged for the rest of his life, but they still had to be developed and put into practice. In 1751 he published Philosophies botanica, his most influential work but actually only an expanded version of Fundamenta botanica. In it Linnaeus dealt with the theory of botany, the laws and rules that the botanist must follow in order to describe and name the plants correctly and to combine them into higher systematic categories. At the same time he struggled with the enormous undertaking of cataloging all of the world’s plant and animal species and giving each its correct place in the system.

Linnaeus started modestly with his native land: Flora suecica containing 1,140 species, appeared in 1745 and Fauna suecica followed a year later. The remaining inventory of the world’s flora was arduous; surrounded by herbarium sheets and folios, Linnaeus occasionally felt unable to continue. Yet before long he completed the monumental Species plantarum (1753), the work he valued the most. In its two volumes he described in brief Latin diagnoses about 8,000 plant species from throughout the world. He also continued to update his Systerma naturae, which, as the bible of natural history, was to present the current state of knowledge and which he periodically expanded and revised. The definitive tenth edition (1758-1759), which included only animal and plant species, was a two-volume work of 1,384 pages.

Linnaeus had to pay the price his ambitions demanded. After suffering a fit of apoplexy in the spring of 1774 that forced him to retire from teaching, his mind became increasingly clouded; another stroke followed in the fall of 1776, and he died early in 1778.

A born taxonomist and systematist, Linnaeus had a deep-rooted, almost compulsive need for clarity and order; everything that passed through his hands he cataloged and sorted into groups and subgroups. This characteristic typifies all of his writings, including his private correspondence. His view of the universe as a gigantic nature collection that God had given him to describe and to fit into a framework was applied first to his reform of botany. There was at that time an urgent need for a simple and easy-to-grasp system for the plant kingdom. A stream of previously unknown plants was reaching Europe, and botanists felt chaos threatening. Since the time of Cesalpino many botanists had tried to create a useful system; and toward the eighteenth century some of these systems had begun to win considerable support, especially those of John Ray and Tournefort, based upon the appearance of the corolla. But none was sufficiently practical, and the various systems were reciprocally competitive, thus increasing the confusion. Only Linnaeus’ system, based on sexuality, had the requisite of being generally adoptable.

Around 1720 the sexuality of plants was still being disputed by many botanists. Linnaeus had already learned about it from his teacher Roth man at the Växjö Gymnasium, following the publication of Sébastien Vaillant’s Sermo de structura florum (1717). As a student at Uppsala he had pursued the subject through his own investigations and soon was convinced of its truth. In the small Praeludia sponsaliorum plantarum (1730), written in Swedish, he announced that the stamens and pistils were the sexual organs of plants. At the same time he began to investigate whether the stamens and pistils could be used to construct a new botanical system. After a short period of doubt he was sure that they could, and in Systema naturae he presented the sexual system in its definitive form. The various plants are grouped into twenty-four classes according to the number of stamens and their relative order; each class is then divided into certain orders, mostly according to the number of pistils. The practical applicability of the sexual system made botany an easy and pleasant science; after one look at the organs of fertilization, any plant could quickly be placed in the proper class and order. To be sure, the system was attacked: in Germany by J. G. Sieges-beck and Heister, in Switzerland by Haller, and in France, where Tournefort’s system had long been generally accepted. But acceptance of the sexual system could not be halted; it gained footing almost everywhere, especially in England, beginning in the 1760’s.

Linnaeus was aware that the sexual system was an artificial structure. It was founded with rigid consistency upon a single principle of division and therefore represented the natural affinities only partially. Linnaeus tried throughout his life to replace the sexual system with a methodus naturalis, a botanical system that would express the “natural” relations. In Classes plantarum (1738) he described sixty-five plant orders that he considered natural, and he returned to the problem in private lectures toward the end of his life—but he never succeeded in solving it. A natural plant system presented theoretical difficulties that he was unable to overcome; in practice he seems to have depended on an intuitive knowledge of the general similarity (facies) of plants. Therefore Linnaeus and his pupils continued to use the sexual system, and it remained for the French (Adanson, A. L. de Jussieu) to lay the foundation of a natural botanical system in the modern sense of the word.

Linnaeus’ other achievements as the reorganizer of botany were as fundamental as the sexual system. He made a deep study of the principles of taxonomy and with masterly clarity worked out fixed rules for the differentiation of the lowest systematic categories-genera and species—both of which were, according to him, “natural.” Although Tournefort had already delineated the genus with great precision, it remained for Linnaeus, inspired by Ray, to be the first to work with species as a clearly defined concept The species were the basic units of botany, and for a long time he considered them to be fixed and unchangeable: “We can count as many species now as were created at the beginning.” He united closely related species in genera according to the appearance of their sexual organs.

Linnaeus dictated with inexorable logic in Philosophia botanica how botanists should proceed in practice. Every species had to be differentiated from all other species within the genus through a Latin differentia specifica, that is, a short diagnosis (twelve words at most) including the characteristic scientific name or nomen specificum. Furthermore, there had to be a longer, complete description of the whole plant. Linnaeus himself laid down the morphological terms that every taxonomist should use for each part of the plant, in order to avoid confusion.

Latin species names notwithstanding, the precision ordered by Linnaeus was nevertheless found to be unmanageable, and he therefore took a decisive step—the introduction of binomial nomenclature. Heralded in his bibliographical writings, it is effectively used for the first time in his dissertation on the plants eaten by animals, “Pan suecicus” (1749), and was subsequently applied in Species plantarum (1753). The binomial nomenclature implied that every plant species would be provided with only two names: one for the genus and one for the species. Linnaeus was delighted by the idea; it “was like putting the clapper in the bell.” Yet at the beginning he did not realize its full import. He considered the new species names only as handy labels, calling them “trivial names”; they could never replace the scientific “specific” names. Only gradually did he understand the practical advantages offered by the new nomenclature, and he then decreed that the “trivial name”; should be unchangeable. Since then his own Species plantarum has been the solid basis for botanical nomenclature.

Linnaeus’ botanical ideas changed over the years on an important point: he was forced to relinquish confidence in the constancy of the number of species. In Peloria (1744) he described a monstrous form of Linaria vulgaris that he wrongly interpreted as a hybrid between Linaria and a completely different plant. He thereafter held that new plant species could develop through hybridization (see Plantae hybridae [1751]) and reached the daring conclusion that within every genus only one species had originally been created, and that new species had developed in time through hybridization of the mother species with species of other genera. This concept was based upon a peculiar theory, traceable to Cesalpino, concerning the “marrow” and the “bark”: Every organism was supposed to consist of a marrow substance (medulla), which was inherited from the mother, and a bark substance (cortex), inherited from the father. All species within the same genera had a common marrow covered by bark substances deriving from different fathers. Around 1760 Linnaeus took the full step and asserted that for every natural plant order only one species had been created at the beginning; the various genera and species came into existence through cross-fertilization at different levels. The theory, although interesting as an attempt to approach a genetic kinship concept, has nothing to do with a theory of evolution in the modern, Darwinian sense of the word.

As a botanist Linnaeus was monumentally onesided. To order the plants in a system (divisio) and to name them (denominatio) was for him the real task of botany. He scorned anatomy and physiology and had little understanding of the then developing experimental biological investigations. To be sure, many acute observations in various areas of botany can be found in his works, especially in his academic dissertations. They deal in large part with ecology. Linnaeus investigated the dormancy of plants and the pollination process, undertaking some simple experiments in connection with the latter. With a sharp eye he distinguished different climatic and phytogeo-graphical regions and dealt successfully with problems of dispersion (wind dissemination of seeds and fruits, and so on).

Worked Out in Oeconomia naturae (1749) and Politia naturae (1760), Linnaeus’ views on the harmony or order in nature are of great interest. Here his perspective broadens; he sees organic nature as an eternal cyclic course of life and death in which every plant and animal species fulfills its destined task in the service of the whole. The domination of the insects prevents the plants from filling the world; the birds contain the insects within fixed limits, Intense competition prevails in nature, but precisely because of it a delicate balance is maintained that permits the work of creation to function. Both Erasmus and Charles Darwin later profitably adopted some of Linnaeus’ views on the hidden struggle in nature.

Linnaeus’ real mastery, in botanical systematics, was more problematic than generally realized. He was an empiricist and a brilliant observer whom nothing escaped. As an exact depicter of natural phenomena he scarcely had an equal. His herbarium comprised dried plants from all parts of the world, and he himself scrutinized more plant species than any of his predecessors. But he was ultimately forced by his special talents to abandon empiricism and instead stamped his work as taxonomist and systematist with a dogmatic and philosophical spirit. Order was paramount, and therefore he resorted to an artificial structure in his effort to place nature’s swarming multitudes in a simple, clear scheme. He violated nature, as in the sexual system he devised. Linnaeus’ scientific method implied that with the aid of certain rules, once and for all determined by himself, the three kingdoms of nature would be organized. He considered the Philosophia botanica to be a statute book spelling out the terminology and concepts to be used by botanists. Logic and definitions of concepts were the true tools of botany.

The fixed basis of Linnaeus’ system was derived from Aristotelian logic, and as a taxonomist he strictly applied its procedureper genus et differentiam. Significantly, he gratefully acknowledged his dependence on the neo-Aristotelian Andrea Cesalpino. As pointed out by Julius Sachs (1875), Linnaeus’ reformation of botany undoubtedly carried a Scholastic stamp, the problems that he wanted to solve with his systematic work being of a logical nature. The Scholastic feature is also noticeable in his conviction that the sexual organs are the real “essences” of plants and therefore must be made the basis for the classification system. He preferred to give his writing a Scholastic form and argued pro and contra like a medieval doctor. All of his work shows a tension between empirical and logical demands, and in situations of conflict the latter almost always wins.

Linnaeus’ classification of the animal and mineral kingdoms does not display the same rigorous consistency as his plant system. Presented and revised in the various editions of Systema naturae, his animal system was of considerable influence. It is somewhat forced and artificial; but Linnaeus, who here had Ray as principal forerunner, nevertheless sought a natural arrangement and often succeeded brilliantly. He did not use, as in botany, a single, universally valid basis for division but tried to divide the six animal classes he had distinguished by means of a specific organ: mammals according to teeth, birds according to bills, fishes according to fins, and insects according to wings. Added to these are the reptiles (Amphibia) and the “worms” (Vermes), the large group of animals without backbone. In the first edition of Systema Linnaeus described 549 animal forms; the last edition included 5,897 species.

In details he was rather unfortunate as a zoological taxonomist, particularly with the “worms” (Vermes), which he arranged elaborately according to misleading exterior features. He united pigs, armadillos, and moles in the same mammalian order and considered the rhinoceros to be a rodent. But as a whole Linnaeus’ animal system signified a considerable advance. He unhesitatingly united man with the apes and was the first to recognize whales as mammals (1758). Linnaeus was at his best in entomology, which from his youth had been his favorite field apart from botany; the insect orders he recognized are essentially still valid. In the important tenth edition of Systema (1758-1759), he used the “trivial name” consistently in the animal kingdom. As a result it became the standard text for all zoological nomenclature.

Linnaeus’ system of the mineral kingdom had little influence but was not without its interesting features. Although he attached great importance to crystal structure for classification and thus was one of the pioneers in crystallography (De crystal lor um generatione[l747])i he had no feeling for the chemical composition of minerals and consequently stood outside of the fruitful contemporary trends in mineral systematics. More important were his contributions to paleontology and historical geology: he described many fossils, including trilohites (entomolithus), which he correctly placed among the arthropods. In his odd speech on “The Growth of the Earth” (“Oratio de telluris habitabilis incremento” [1743]) and in later works Linnaeus gave his conception of the development of the planet. Inspired by the Christian doctrine of paradise and the old concept of the golden age, he imagined paradise as an island on the equator, from which animals and plants, with the decrease of the water, spread out over the earth. In the 1740’s he contributed observations in the field to the lively debates in Sweden about “water reduction” i.e., the uplift of the Swedish plateau in postglacial time. He believed that the sedimentary strata had been deposited over enormous time periods but, mindful of ecclesiastical orthodoxy, he was wary of expressing his heretical views on the age of the world and the length of the geological epochs.

As a university teacher Linnaeus worked within the medical faculty and published many medical works of varying value. His passion for order and classification extended to his medical work, and through his Genera morborum (1763) he figures with Francois Boissier de Sauvages as the founder of systematic nosology. To a great extent inspired by Sauvages, with whom he maintained a lively correspondence, Linnaeus methodically grouped diseases into classes, orders, and genera according to their symptoms. His theory, explained in Exanthemata viva (1757), which holds that certain diseases are caused by invisible living organisms (acari), is interesting but not original; he cites A. Q. Bachmann (Rivinus) as precursor. Linnaeus applied his botanical knowledge in the three-volume Materia medica (1749-1763) and sought medical profundity in the peculiar Clavis medicinae (1766). Filled with number mysticism and based upon speculations about “marrow” and “bark,” Clavis medicinae is almost incomprehensible in its classification of diseases according to complaints deriving from maternal marrow or paternal bark substance.

Linnaeus had a tendency toward unrestrained, impulsive speculation; for him, vague fancies often became eternal truths that needed no close examination. Similarly, he sometimes put blind faith in fables and folk tales; during his entire life he remained convinced that swallows slept on the bottom of lakes during the winter. He was also rather old-fashioned and simplistic in his general theory of nature, which had a strong Stoic-Aristotelian basis. The peculiar theological remarks that Linnaeus later in life collected under the title Nemesis divina (first published in 1848) also belong in this category. They deal, in melancholic fatalism, with divine retribution as the law ruling human existence.

Linnaeus attained worldwide influence not only through his writings but also through his students. A great many foreign students came to him in Uppsala to learn the foundations of systematic natural science. They included the Scandinavians Peter Ascanius and J. C, Fabricius, the entomologist; the Germans Johann Beckmann, Paul D. Giseke, J, C. D. Schreber; the Russian Barons Demidoff; and the American Adam Kuhn, who became professor in Philadelphia. All of them helped to spread the Linnaean doctrine in their own countries.

The world was Linnaeus’ sphere of activity also in another sense. He sent many of his students abroad, rejoicing in the plants and other natural specimens that he received from them but grieving bitterly when they died of disease or hardship. Peter Kalm traveled in North America and Fredrik Hasselquist in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine; Peter Osbeck and others sailed on East Indian merchant ships to China. Peter Forsskål went to Arabia as a member of a Danish-German expedition, while Pehr Loefling, Linnaeus’ favorite pupil, died in Venezuela. Daniel Solander sailed with Joseph Banks on Captain Cook’s first global circumnavigation, and later Anders Sparrman sailed under Cook’s command across the Pacific. The most industrious of all Linnaean travelers, Karl Peter Thunherg, managed after many trips to gain entry into Japan. Linnaeus not only received botanical specimens from his pupils but also, on occasion, published posthumously their travel descriptions, such as Hasselquist’s Iter Palaestinum (1757) and Loefling’s Iter Hispamcum (1758).

Linnaeus was a complicated man. His enormous scientific production was supported by a self-esteem almost without parallel. He considered his published works to be unblemished masterpieces; no one had ever been a greater botanist or zoologist. Unable to accept criticism, he sulked like a child when he encountered it. He persecuted those, like Buffon, who did not accept him, Linnaeus looked upon himself as a prophet called by God to promulgate the only true dogma; botanists who did not follow the rules and regulations in Philosophia botanica clearly were “heretics.” Of unstable temperament and essentially naïve, he vacillated between overweening pride and brooding despair, His peculiarities often made him difficult; many were repelled by his egocentric behavior, and over the years he became increasingly isolated.

Yet Linnaeus also could radiate an overpowering charm, and almost all of his students loved him. In a sunny mood, as one sees him in his letters and other relaxed moments, he was irresistible, in playful moods he interpreted nature in the light of classical mythology or personified it. His view of nature was deeply religious; central to all his work was God’s omnipotence. He never deviated from the devout physicotheology that was widespread in the eighteenth century, but he stamped it with his peculiar sense of mystery and wonder. “I saw,” he wrote in the introduction to the later editions of Systema naturae, “the infinite, all-knowing and all-powerful God from behind as He went away and I grew dizzy. I followed His footsteps over nature’s fields and saw everywhere an eternal wisdom and power, an inscrutable perfection.”


I. Original Works. Linnaeus’ library, herbarium, archives, and MSS were left to his only son, Carl von Linné the younger, who succeeded his father as professor of botany. After the son’s death in 1783, the collections were sold for 900 guineas to the young English physician James Edward Smith, who in 1788 founded the Linnean Society of London. Since then the Linnean Society has been the keeper of all Linnaeus’ collections. Swedish libraries have only a few of the more important MSS, such as Prealudia sponsaliorum pluntarum and Nemesis divina, both in the library of Uppsala University.

Two complete modern bibliographies are J. M. Hulth, Bibliographia Linnaeana, I, pt. 1 (Uppsala, 1907); and B. H. Soulsby, A Catalogue of the Works of Linnaeus (London, 1933), which includes works about Linnaeus. Two modern facsimile eds. are Genera plantarum, which is Historiae Naturalis Classica, III (Weinheim,, 1960); and Species plantarum, 2 vols. (London, 1957-1959), both with important intros. by W. T. Stearn.

Praelectiones in ordines naturales plantarum was published by P. D. Giseke (Hamburg, 1792). Collections of letters from Linnaeus or to him include D. H. Stöver, ed., Collectio epistolarum quas … scripsit Carolus a Linné(Hamburg, 1792); J. E. Smith, ed., A Selection of the Correspondence of Linnaeus and Other Naturalists, 2 vols. (London, 1821); C. N. J. Schreiber, ed., Epistolae ad Nicolaum Josephum Jacquin (Vienna, 1841); and Lettres inédites de Linné à Boissier de la Croix de Sauvages (Alais [Alès], 1860). Publication of the whole of Linnaeus’ correspondence was never completed: T. M. Fries, J. M. Hulth, and A. H. Uggia, eds., Bref och skrifvelser of och till Carlvan Linné, 10 vols. (I, 8 vols.; II, 2 vols.) (Stockholm-Uppsala, 1907-1943). E. Ährling, Carl von Linnés brefvexling (Stockholm, 1885), contains a complete list of the letters to Linnaeus in the Linnean Society.

A critical ed, of Linnaeus’ five preserved autobiographies is in E. Malmeström and A. H. Uggla, Vita Caroli Linnaei (Stockholm, 1957).

Works from Linnaeus’ youth, including those on the Lapland and Dalarna trips, are in E. Ährling, Carl von Linnés ungdomsskrifter, 2 vols. (Stockholm, 1888-1889). The Lapland voyage, Iter lapponicum, was translated by J. E, Smith as Laehesis lapponica or a Tour in Lappland 2 vols. (London, 1811); a critical ed. is in T. M. Fries, ed., Shifter of Carl von Linné, V (Uppsala, 1913). There is also A. H. Uggla, ed., Dalaresa(with Iter ad exteros and Iter ad fodinas) (Stockholm, 1953), with commentary.

See also A. H. Uggla, ed., Diaeta naturalis 1733 (Uppsala, 1958); A. O. Lindfors, ed., “Linnés dietetik,” in Uppsala uinkersitets årsskrift (1907); Einar Lönnberg, ed., Föreläsningar öfver djurriket (Uppsala, 1913); E. Malmeström and T. Fredbärj, eds., Nemesis divina (Stockholm, 1968), the first complete ed.

II, Secondary Literature. The literature on Linnaeus is very comprehensive; a survey is given in Sten Lindroth, “Two Centuries of Linnaean Studies,” in Bibliography and Natural History (Lawrence, Kans., 1966), pp. 27-45.

The first biographies appeared in the eighteenth century: Richard Pulteney, A General View of the Writings of Linnaeus (London, 1781); and D. H. Stöver, Leben des Ritters Carl von Linné, 2 vols. (Hamburg, 1792), also translated into English (London, 1794). Another older biography is J. F. X, Gisfel, Carolus Linnaeus, Bin Lebens-bild (Frankfurt, 1873). T. M. Fries, Linné, 2 vols. (Stockholm, 1903), translated into English in an abridged version by Benjamin Daydon Jackson as Linnaeus: The Story of His Life (London, 1923), is the indispensable modern biography for all Linnaean research. Among later, shorter popular biographies are Knut Hagberg, Carl Linnaeus (Stockholm, 1939; rev. ed., 1957), also translated into English (London, 1952); Norah Gourlie, The Prince of Botanists: Carl Linnaeus (London, 1953); Elis Malmeström, Carl von Linné (Stockholm, 1964); Heinz Goerke, Carl von Linné, which is Grosse Naturforscher no. 31 (Stuttgart, 1966); and Wilfrid Blunt, The Compleat Naturalist. A Life of Linnaeus (London, 1971). For Linnaean iconography, see Tycho Tullberg, Linnéporträtt (Uppsala, 1907).

A. J. Boerman has dealt with Carolus Linnaeus als middelaar tussen Nederlanden Zweden (Utrecht, 1953). Articles on Linnaeus’ life and work are being published in Svenska Linnésällskapets årsskrift (Uppsala, 1918- ). Carl von Linné’s Bedeutung als Naturforscher und Arzt (Jena, 1909), published by the Swedish Academy of Science in a collection of papers, reviews Linnaeus’ scientific achievements. Nils von Hofsten deals with Linnaeus’ conception of nature in Kungliga Vetenskaps-societetens årsbok 1957 (Uppsala, 1958), pp. 65-105. An attempt to evaluate Linnaeus in terms of the history of ideas and psychology is Sten Lindroth, “Linné-legend och verklighet,” in Lychnos (1965-1966), pp. 56-122.

Valuable insights on Linnaeus as a botanist are in Julius Sachs, Geschichte der Botanik (Munich, 1875). The best modern summary of Linnaeus’ botanical ideas is Gunnar Eriksson, Botanikens historia i Sverige intill år 1800, which is Lychnos-Bibliotek, XVII, 3 (Uppsala, 1969). His taxonomic and systematic principles are investigated in J. Ramsbottom, “Linnaeus and the Species Concept,” in Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, 150 (1938), 192-219; H. K. Svenson, “On the Descriptive Method of Linnaeus,” in Rhodora, 47 (1945), 273-302, 363-368; C. E. B, Bremekamp, “Linné’s Views on the Hierarchy of the Taxonomic Groups,” in Acta botanica neerlandka,2 (1953), 242-253; A. J. Cain, ’Logic and Memory in Linnaeus’s System of Taxonomy,“in Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, 169 (1958), 144-163; W. T. Stearn, Three Prefaces on Linnaeus and Robert Brown (Weinheim, 1962); and James L. Larson, Reason and Experience. The Representation of Natural Order in the Work of Carl von Linné (Berkeley, 1971).

On the binomial nomenclature, see W. T. Steam, ‘The Background of Linnaeus’s Contributions to the Nomenclature and Methods of Systematic Biology,” in Systematic Zoology, 8 , no. 1 (1959), 4-22; and John L. Heller, “The Early History of Binomial Nomenclature,” in Huntia,1 (1964), 33-70. Linnaeus’ relations to other botanists are discussed in Heinz Goerke, “Die Beziehungen Hallers zu Linné,” in Sudhofts Archiv für Geschichtc der Median tmd der Naturwissensehaften, 38 (1954), 367-377; and Hans Krook, “Lorenz Heister och Linné,” in Svenska Linnésallskapets årsskrift, 31 (1948), 57-72.

On Linnaeus zoological system, see Nils von Hofsten, “Linnés djursystem,” Svenska Linnésällskapets årsskrift, 42 (1959), 9-43; and “A System of ‘Double Entries’ in Zoologiska bidrag frdn Uppsala, 35 (1963), 603-631. In addition there is Thomas Bendyshe, “On the Anthropology of Linnaeus,” in Memoirs Read Before the Anthropological Society of London, 1 (1863-1864), 421-458. On Darwin and Linnaeus, see Robert C. Stauffer, “Ecology in the Long Manuscript Version of Darwin’s Origin of Species and Linnaeus,” in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 104 (1960), 235-241. Linnaeus, geological thought is examined in Tore Frängsmyr, Ceoiogioch skapelsetw. Föreställningar om jordens historic från Hiärne till Bergman, which is Lychnos-Bibliotek, XXVI (Uppsala, 1969), ch. 4; and his nosological system in Fredrik Berg, “Linné ct Sauvages: Les rapports entre leurs systèmes nosologiques,” in Lychnos (1956), pp. 31-54; and Linne’s Systema morborum (Uppsala, 1957).

Elis Malmeström considers Linnaeus as theological thinker in Carl von Linnés religiösa åskådning (Stockholm, 1926); and “Die religiöse Entwicklung und die Weltanschauung von Linnés,” in Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie,, 19 (1942), 31-58. See also Elof Ehnmark, “Linnaeus and the Problem of Immortality,” in Kungliga Humanistiska vetenskapssamfundet i Lund, Årsberättelse (1951-1952), pp. 63-93. Linnaeus’ view of man is analyzed in K. R. V. Wikman, Lachesis and Nemesis, which is Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, no. 6 (Stockholm, 1970),

For the spread of Linnaean botany, see Frans A. Stafleu, Linnaeus and the Linnaeans. The Spreading of Their Ideas in Systematic Botany (1735-1789) (Utrecht, 1971).

Sten Lindroth

Linnaeus, Carl

views updated May 18 2018


(b. Södra Råshult, Småland, Sweden, 23 May 1707; d. Uppsala, Sweden, 10 January 1778),

botany, zoology, mineralogy, geology, medicine, economy. For the original article on Linnaeus see DSB, vol. 8.

As Sten Lindroth emphasizes right from the start of his DSB article, Linnaeus had few, if any, equals in reshaping the ways in which natural history was practiced in the eighteenth century. His literary output was prolific, and eighteenth-century reeditions (both authorized and pirated), translations, and popular adaptations of his main works—such as the Systema Naturae, the Genera Plan-tarum, and the Philosophia Botanica—number in the tens and hundreds. By the end of the century it was effectively impossible to be taken seriously as a naturalist without complying with the conventions of Linnaean taxonomy and nomenclature. Explaining this astonishing impact remains one of the main challenges for Linnaean scholarship, especially because Linnaeus’s work presents an amalgam of neo-Stoicism, scholastic reasoning, Cartesian iatromechanism, Baconian empiricism, Paracelsian natural philosophy, protestant physicotheology, and Scandinavian folklore that was surely hard to digest for his contemporaries. As Lindroth’s article amply demonstrates, Linnaeus was a highly idiosyncratic and syncretistic thinker, but also marginal by geographic origin and social standing, especially if compared with his life-long rival Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, superintendent of the Jardin du Roi in Paris and initiator and main author of the voluminous Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (44 vols., 1749–1804).

The reasons for Linnaeus’s success must therefore be sought in the wider cultural context of his time rather than in the force and authority of the ideas and arguments he put forward. Scholarship since the 1980s has done a lot to explore these contexts, focusing on three interrelated themes: Linnaeus’s role in transforming the culture of collecting that supported natural history; the economic agendas that motivated his reform of natural history; and the way in which his work resonated with eighteenth-century concerns with sexuality and human difference.

Collections and the Natural System . Linnaean scholarship has long suffered from a kind of inverse anachronism. Eager to reject the image of botany and zoology as mere “stamp collecting,” plant physiologists such as Julius von Sachs in the nineteenth century, as well as evolutionary biologists such as Arthur J. Cain and Ernst Mayr in the twentieth, made Linnaeus into a representative of a disciplinary past that was dominated by a mistaken “essential-ist” methodology. However, factual historical evidence supporting the view that Linnaeus “excelled in [scholastic] logic”—as Mayr put it in his influential The Growth of Biological Thought (1982, p. 173)—is scant, to say the

least. His school and university teachers shared the same eclecticism that Linnaeus himself later espoused, and the only authorities he ever quoted on methodological and epistemological issues were Francis Bacon and Herman Boerhaave. It was Linnaeus himself, moreover, who was the first to denounce classifications reached by division per genus et differentiam, including his own so-called sexual system, as artificial.

The aim of natural history, according to Linnaeus, was not to provide diagnostic tools but to uncover what he called the “natural system,” and he was clearly aware of the fact that this aim could not to be reached by a priori reasoning, but by empirical research alone. In natural history, such research included the acquisition of specimens through fieldwork or exchange with other naturalists, their accumulation in specialized institutions (botanical gardens and museums), and careful comparative work, as well as meticulous recording of data in catalogs, synoptic tables, and descriptions, cross-referenced by indices and stable names. Linnaeus’s key to success was the integration of such technologies with a system of social recognition that favored individualized contributions to a common agenda over grand theoretical designs. Acutely aware of the importance of collectors’ networks for the practice of natural history, Linnaeus specified rules of taxonomy and nomenclature—first in his Fundamenta Botanica (1736), and later in the Philosophia Botanica (1751), which amounted to a manual of do-it-yourself botany—that were explicit enough to allow every person capable of reading and writing to contribute to natural history (e.g., by publishing the description of a “new” species), yet afforded the authority and expertise of central institutions to synthesize the amassing data and clear competing claims of discovery and priority. Linnaeus himself disposed of a vast network of correspondents, including both metropolitan naturalists and peripheral amateurs, and for a time it became virtually impossible to lay claim on the discovery of a “new” species without having it sanctioned by Linnaeus.

The “natural system” has remained the focal research object of botanical and zoological taxonomy since Linnaeus. Not surprisingly, however, its meaning has changed considerably over time. For Linnaeus, “natural affinities” among organisms became manifest in two ways: first, by the constancy with which organisms reproduced their specific characters from one generation to the next; second, by the correlation of traits that allowed the naturalist to describe not only species, but also genera and units of higher taxonomic rank such as orders and classes. Both of these aspects were closely intertwined with the practical basis of Linnaean natural history. Linnaeus’s species concept shifted the emphasis from the observation of similarities to the observation of “laws of generation,” according to which certain characters proved “constant” in the transplantations specimens were undergoing when exchanged among naturalists. And Linnaeus’s concept of “natural” genera and orders established higher taxonomic units as research subjects, to be described and presented on their own, independent of any universally accepted method or system. The hybridization theory that Linnaeus developed in later years to account for the origin of species in time tried to unite both of these aspects. Species transformations and hybridizations between widely different species had been assumed possible since antiquity, but with Linnaeus they became the subject of an organized, collective research activity. In 1759 Linnaeus performed a hybridization experiment with Tragopogon pratensis (goatsbeard), which initiated a research tradition leading right up to Gregor Mendel’s famous experiments with peas.

Economy and Natural History . Linnaeus promoted reform not only in the international community of naturalists, to which he liked to refer as a “free republic,” but in his own home country as well, developing a distinct politico-economic agenda that built on a close connection between science, rational governance, and economic well-being. The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, which he cofounded in 1739, was initially called the Economic Society of Science, and the first volume of its Transactions contained a contribution by Linnaeus, in which he argued that natural history provided knowledge of natural resources, and thus one of the bases for the economic well-being of a nation. In a similar vein, the inaugural lecture Linnaeus gave in 1741, when assuming his professorship at Uppsala University, propagated “the necessity of traveling in one’s own country” (Oratio qua peregrinationum intra patriam asseritur necessitas, 1741), and Linnaeus’s surveys of various provinces of Sweden in the 1740s were carried out on behalf of the Manufacture and Trade Deputation of the National Estates. Linnaeus was also among those who called for obligatory education in economics for obtaining any university degree, and who promoted the installation of professorships in economics at Swedish universities during the 1740s. One of his own students, Pehr Kalm, was the first to be appointed to such a professorship at the University of Åbo (Turku, Finland) in 1747, shortly before he embarked on his three-year journey through North America.

Linnaeus’s engagement with economics was motivated by a peculiar mix of cameralist and mercantilist notions of economy. Linnaeus had close connections to members of the mercantilist, so-called Hat Party, which dominated Sweden during its so-called era of freedom (1718–1772), and he subscribed to the mercantilist view that a negative trade balance was detrimental to national economies. Import of exotic luxury goods such as tea, sugar, spices, or printed cotton led to a loss of bullion, and thus to a country’s economic decline. For Linnaeus, however, the solution to this problem did not lie in counter-balancing imports by exports, but in striving for the cameralist ideal of a rationalistically governed autarky, or economic self-sufficiency. “The idea was,” as Lisbet Koerner put it succinctly in her 1999 book Linnaeus: Nature and Nation, “to create a miniaturized mercantilist empire within the borders of the European state” (p. 188), either by identifying domestic natural resources that could supplant foreign imports, or by importing and “acclimatizing” exotic plants and animals for domestic use.

Natural history had an important role in this, as it provided an inventory of both domestic and exotic natural resources. University training in economics—combining natural history with the teaching of known uses of minerals, plants, and animals—could thus provide the state with a broad, disciplined basis of administrators, parsons, physicians, and engineers that furthered national prosperity through systematic allocation and exploitation of natural resources. Linnaeus’s own travels through his home country, and the questionnaires he published to obtain information, for example, on the calendar dates at which different species of trees came to leaf in different geographic regions in Sweden (Vernatio Arborum, 1753), betray this proto-statistical ambition. And also the worldwide travels that some of his students undertook, often with active support from the Royal Academy of Sciences and the Swedish East India Company, have to be seen in this context. Throughout his entire career Linnaeus tried desperately to get hold of exotic animals and plants, such as silkworms, rice, and tea, to cultivate them in Sweden, and developed grand designs to forest Lapland. Most of these projects failed, with two exceptions: Linnaeus introduced rhubarb to Sweden, and successfully seeded domestic mussels with pearls, for which he received, in 1761, enoblement, three thousand silver thalers, and the right to choose his own successor.

Sexuality, Anthropology, and the Politics of Nature . A key element of Linnaeus’s popular fame was without doubt his sexual system, first published in the Systema Naturae (1735). It was not only a handy, diagnostic tool for the identification of plants, but also made use of anthropomorphic metaphors in describing the sexual organs of plants. The result was a kind of ethnography of human sexuality, including adultery, polygamy, prostitution, incest, and homosexuality. Using these metaphors was, in part, surely meant to attract public attention, but also reflects the degree to which Linnaeus’s whole thinking was preoccupied with sexuality. The two substances of which all living beings consisted according to Linnaeus’s physiological teaching, “marrow” (medulla) and “bark” (cortex), were strongly gendered. The “marrow” was a substance passed on maternally, occupying the interior of organisms, and endowed with a tendency to grow and multiply. The “bark,” on the contrary, was a substance passed on paternally, enclosing and restraining the medulla, and endowed with the ability to protect and nourish it. In contrast to most of his contemporaries, Linnaeus was not a preformationist, but believed that organisms developed epigenetically through the antagonistic interaction of medulla and cortex. In many ways, this theory reflected Linnaeus’s own, strained relationship with his wife Sara Elisabeth Moraea, who bore him four daughters and a son and managed the “household,” which, at the height of Linnaeus’s career, consisted of three large rural estates.

Linnaeus’s tendency to naturalize social relations is prominent also in his anthropological work. The Systema Naturae of 1735 classified humans together with the apes and the sloth as Anthropomorpha, and subdivided humanity into four “varieties,” “white Europeans,” “red Americans,” “yellow Asians,” and “black Africans.” In later editions of the Systema Naturae, Linnaeus would supplement this classification by skin color with psychological criteria borrowed from the medical doctrine of the four temperaments. By contrast, Linnaeus portrayed the native inhabitants of Lapland, the Sami, as “noble savages” in his Flora Lapponica (1737). Anticipating Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), he described their way of life as a model of virtue and health, free of the corruptions that civilization, especially at courts and in cities, brought with it. This may in part explain the fact that postrevolutionary France indulged in a downright cult of Linnaeus and his science, resulting in the foundation of a great number of provincial Sociétés linnéennes in the early nineteenth century.

Both sexuality and human difference would become prominent themes in the Enlightenment. Their pronounced presence in Linnaeus’s work betrays the fact that he did not belong to an outdated tradition. He rather broke in many ways with traditional thought, especially with the idea of nature forming a scale of perfection on which each being was assigned its preordained place. Humankind’s place in nature, in Linnaeus’s eyes, was not at the top of the scala naturae, but rather in the center of a web of relations that interconnected all beings and was open to progress. The two Linnaean essays that propounded this view of nature, Oeconomia Naturae (1749) and Politia Naturae (1761), were then the ones also, whose legacy lasted well into the nineteenth century.


Editions of Linnaeus’s original publications abound, and there is no modern scholarly edition of his work. The best access to his work is still provided by B. H. Soulsby’s 1933 bibliography of Linnaeana in the holdings of the British Library (see Lindroth’s article for bibliographic detail). Wilfrid Blunt’s The Compleat Naturalist (see below) contains a useful overview of Linnaeus’s main works. The bibliographies by Sven-Erik Sandermann Olsen and R. W. Kiger et al. cover the two hundred dissertations completed under Linnaeus and present important biobibliographic information on his students. Linnaeus published in Latin and Swedish, but there exist translations into many different languages. The following list compiles English translations of his major works only, for other translations see Soulsby (1933).


Linnaeus’s Öland and Gotland Journey, 1741. Edited by William T. Stearn. Translated by Marie Åsberg. London: Academic Press for the Linnean Society of London, 1973.

Miscellaneous Tracts relating to Natural History, Husbandry, and Physick. Translated by Benjamin Stillingfleet. London: R. & J. Dodsley, 1759. A translation of select dissertations from the collection of theses and orations that Linnaeus had published under the title Ammoenitates academicae (Stockholm 1749–1769). Contains translations of Oratio qua peregrinationum intra patriam asseritur necessitas (1741), Oeconomia naturae (1749), and Vernatio arborum (1753).

The Families of Plants, with their Natural Characters, according to the Number, Figure, Situation, and proportion of all the parts of the Fructification. Translated by a Botanical Society at Lichfield. Lichfield: John Jackson, 1787. A translation of the posthumous seventh edition of the Genera plantarum (edited by J. J. Reichard, Frankfurt/M. 1778).

Select Dissertations from the Amoenitates Academicae. A Supplement to Mr. Stillingfleets’s Tracts relating to Natural History. Translated by F. J. Brand. London: G. Robinson & J. Robson, 1781. Contains translations of Curiositatis naturalis (1748), Telluris habitabilis incremento (1744), and Politia naturae (1761).

A General System of Nature, through the three grand kingdoms of Animals, Vegetables, and Minerals. 7 vols., translated by W. Turton. London: Lackington, Allen & Co., 1802–1806. A translation of the posthumous, thirteenth edition of the Systema naturae (edited by J. F. Gmelin, Leipzig, 1788–1793).

Nemesis Divina. Edited by Michael John Petry. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996. Translation of a secret diary Linnaeus kept to compile evidence for divine retaliation.

Lachesis Lapponica, or a Tour in Lapland. Edited by James Edward Smith, translated by Carl Troilius. London: White & Cochrane, 1811. This is the first edition of Linnaeus Lapland journal, which he himself never came to publish.

Linnaeus’ Philosophia botanica. Translated by Stephen Freer. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Musa Cliffortiana. Introduction by S. Müller-Wille; translated by Steven Freer. Koenigstein: Koeltz Scientific Publishers for International Association for Plant Taxonomy. In press.


Beretta, Marco. “The Société Linnéenne de Paris (1787–1827).” Svenska Linnésällskapets Årsskrift (1991): 151–175.

Blunt, Wilfrid. The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus. 2nd ed. London: Lincoln, 2001. Still the best biography of Linnaeus, with an updated bibliography.

Broberg, Gunnar, Allan Ellenius, and Bengt Jonsell. Linnaeus and His Garden. Uppsala: Swedish Linnaeus Society, 1983.

Drouin, Jean-Marc. “Linné et l´économie de la nature.” In Science, Techniques & Encyclopédies, edited by Denis Hue. Paris: Association Diderot, l’Éncyclopédisme & autres, 1991.

Duris, Pascal. Linné et la France, 1780–1850. Geneva: Droz, 1995.

Frängsmyr, Tore, ed. Linnaeus: The Man and His Work. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Contains translations of important contributions by Swedish scholars on Linnaeus: Sten Lindroth’s classic “The Two Faces of Linnaeus,” Gunnar Eriksson’s “Linnaeus the Botanist,” Frängsmyr’s “Linnaeus the Geologist,” and Gunnar Broberg’s “Homo Sapiens: Linnaeus’s Classification of Man.”

Gardiner, Brian G. “Linnaeus’s Medical Career.” The Linnean 1 (1984): 11–17.

———. “Linnaeus and Tobacco.” The Linnean 6 (1990): 15–20. Heller, John Lewis. Studies in Linnaean Method and

Nomenclature. Frankfurt: Lang, 1983. A collection of essays providing, among other things, a translation of the dedication to the Hortus Cliffortianus (1737), an interesting essay on the origins of binomial nomenclature in bibliographic practices, and expansions of the abbreviations Linnaeus used to refer to older taxonomic literature.

Hocquet, Thierry, ed. Les fondements de la botanique: Linné et la classification des plantes. Paris: Vuibert, 2005. A collection of essays by Giulio Barsanti, Pietro Corsi, Jean-Marc Drouin, Pascal Duris, and Staffan Müller-Wille. Also contains translations of the Fundamenta Botanica (1736) and the introduction to the Genera Plantarum (1737).

Hövel, Gerlinde. “Qualitates vegetabilium,” “vires medicamentorum,” und “oeconomicus usus plantarum” bei Carl von Linné (1707–1778): Erste Versuche einer zielgerichteten Forschung nach Arznei- und Nutzpflanzen auf wissenschaftlicher Grundlage. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheker-Verlag, 1999. An important study of Linnaeus’s pharmacological doctrine.

Jarvis, Charlie. Order out of Chaos: Linnaean Plant Names and Their Types. London: Linnean Society, 2007.

Kiger, Robert W., et al. Index to Scientific Names of Organisms Cited in the Linneaen Dissertations: Together with a Synoptic Bibliography of the Dissertations and a Concordance for Selected Editions. Pittsburgh: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, 1999.

Koerner, Lisbet (née Rausing). Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. A detailed study of Linnaeus’s economic thought, his relation to Lapland, and the acclimatization projects he and his students undertook.

Lafuente, Antonio, and Nuria Valverde. “Linnaean Botany and Spanish Imperial Biopolitics.” In Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World, edited by Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Larson, James L. Interpreting Nature: The Science of Living Form from Linnaeus to Kant. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. An important study of the late-eighteenth-century legacy of Linnaeus, Buffon, and Albrecht von Haller.

Müller-Wille, Staffan. “Gardens of Paradise.” Endeavour 25, no. 2 (2001): 49–54.

———. “Joining Lapland and the Topinambes in Flourishing Holland: Center and Periphery in Linnaean Botany.” Science in Context 16 (2003): 461–488

———. “Nature as a Marketplace: The Political Economy of Linnaean Botany.” In Oeconomies in the Age of Newton, edited by Neil De Marchi and Margaret Schabas. History of Political Economy annual supplement, Vol. 35. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

———. “Walnuts at Hudson Bay, Coral Reefs in Gotland: The Colonialism of Linnaean Botany.” In Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World, edited by Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

———. “Linnaeus’ Herbarium Cabinet: A Piece of Furniture and Its Function.” Endeavour 30, no. 2 (2006): 60–64.

———. “Collection and Collation: Theory and Practice of Linnaean Botany.” In Studies in History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38, no. 3 (2007). Provides an analysis and English translation (coauthored with K. Reeds) of the introduction to the Genera Plantarum (1737).

Natural History Museum (London). “Linnaeus Link.” Available from Collection of information on holdings of Linnaeana in museums worldwide.

Rausing, Lisbet. “Underwriting the Oeconomy: Linnaeus on Nature and Mind.” In Oeconomies in the Age of Newton, edited by Neil De Marchi and Margaret Schabas. History of Political Economy annual supplement, vol. 35. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

Sandermann Olsen, Sven-Erik. Bibliographia discipuli Linnaei: Bibliographies of the 331 Pupils of Linnaeus. Copenhagen: Bibliotheca Linnaeana Danica, 1997.

Schiebinger, Londa. “The Private Life of Plants: Sexual Politics in Carl Linnaeus and Erasmus Darwin.” In Science and Sensibility: Gender and Scientific Enquiry, 1780–1945, edited by Marina Benjamin. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 1991.

———. “Why Mammals Are Called Mammals: Gender Politics in 18th-Century Natural History.” American Historical Review 98 (1993): 382–411.

Sloan, Phillip R. “The Buffon-Linnaeus Controversy.” Isis 67 (1976): 356–375.

———. “The Gaze of Natural History.” In Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth-Century Domains, edited by Christopher Fox, Roy Porter, and Robert Wokler. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. An important study of Linnaeus’s and Buffon’s anthropology.

Sörlin, Sverker. “Scientific Travel: The Linnaean Tradition.” In Science in Sweden: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1739–1989, edited by Tore Frängsmyr. Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 1989.

———. “Ordering the World for Europe: Science as Intelligence and Information as Seen from the Northern Periphery.” In Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise, edited by Roy MacLeod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. An interesting account of Linnaeus’s position in the world of eighteenth-century natural history.

Stevens, Peter F., and Steven P. Cullen. “Linnaeus, the Cortex-Medulla Theory, and the Key to His Understanding of Plant Form and Natural Relationships.” Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 71 (1990): 179–220.

Swedish Linnaean Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Uppsala University and its library, and the Linnean Society of London, with the collaboration of the Centre International d’Étude du XVIIIe Siècle. “The Linnaean Correspondence.” Available from An online edition of all preserved letters to and from Linnaeus, with explanatory notes and English summaries.

Weinstock, John, ed. Contemporary Perspectives on Linnaeus. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985. An essay collection with interesting contributions on Linnaeus and folk taxonomy, his classificatory practices, and his background in Swedish culture.

Staffan Müller-Wille

Linnaeus, Carolus

views updated May 09 2018

Linnaeus, Carolus

Swedish Botanist 1707-1778

Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus is best remembered for his classification system and binomial system of nomenclature. He brought order to the chaotic state of biological knowledge in the eighteenth century, introducing a systematic means of processing and organizing information on plants and animals. His particular interest was in plants, especially flowering plants, and the bulk of his efforts and publications focused on botanical studies. His most lasting contribution to biology is his binomial nomenclatural system, which grew out of what was for him a more primary focus: the development of a comprehensive system for classifying plants and animals.

Also known as Carl Linnaeus or Carl von Linné, he was born in Små-land, Sweden, and even in his early years displayed an unusual interest in plants. His father, a curate in the Lutheran church, taught him many plant names. In adolescence Linnaeus learned about the doctrine of sexual reproduction in plants, which at that time was still a relatively recent concept. While still a medical student at universities in Lund and Uppsala, he began to develop a classification system based on the reproductive organs of plants. Faculty recognized his abilities and asked him to conduct lectures on botany. In 1732 he received support from the Swedish Royal Academy of Science to travel to Lapland to observe the plants and animals there and how people lived and supported themselves. This trip made a lasting impression on young Linnaeus. He wrote about the plants he observed in Flora Lapponica (1737), and the specimens he collected in Lapland are now at the Institut de France, Paris.

In 1735 Linnaeus traveled to Holland to get a medical degree at Hard-erwijk. While in Holland he met prominent naturalists and was able to publish some of his own research. He made short trips to England, Germany, and France, again meeting important naturalists. In Holland he worked for George Clifford, a wealthy merchant with an extensive private botanical garden, which Linnaeus worked on and catalogued. This opportunity exposed Linnaeus to a wide range of plants that he would not have seen in his native Sweden, an experience that aided him in developing his ideas about classification. A catalogue of plants in Clifford's garden was published as Hortus Cliffortianus (1738).

Among the ten manuscripts Linnaeus published while in Holland were Systema Naturae (1735) and Genera Plantarum (1737). The former contained the first appearance of his classification scheme, while the latter contained his natural definitions of genera , building on work previously done by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708) and others.

Linnaeus returned to Sweden in 1738, was married, and practiced medicine in Stockholm for three years. In 1741 he was appointed a professor at the university in Uppsala, where he remained for the rest of his life, teaching, collecting and studying plants, and publishing. He was popular with his students and trained among them many enthusiastic naturalists. Early in his university career he traveled around Sweden, but after 1749 he stayed in Uppsala, sending a number of his students out on plant exploration journeys to many parts of the world. His landmark Species Plantarum (1753) and many other publications trace the development of his thought through the course of his career.

Linnaeus received many honors during his lifetime and was famous in Sweden and abroad for his ideas about classification and nomenclature. The eighteenth century was marked by a collective desire to gather and organize the whole of knowledge in encyclopedic schemes, and certainly Linnaeus's efforts were in harmony with the spirit of his times. His unusual talents for systematic organization and for intuiting the relationships among plants allowed him to accomplish a methodical review and theoretical organization of the natural world on a massive scale at a time when such work was desperately needed. His precise terminology, use of an international language, and global scope ensured widespread applicability and usability of his system. Modern systematic biology began with his mid-eighteenth-century publications. Historians of science recognize this by referring to earlier publications in the life sciences as "pre-Linnaean literature." Linnaeus's main collections are held by the Linnean Society of London, and other collections that he made throughout his lifetime are scattered at various institutions.

Classification of Organisms

Naturalists in eighteenth-century Europe were faced with a bewildering and ever-growing number of previously unencountered plants and animals, the result of European voyages of exploration. Many sought to develop some sort of natural classification system that would organize plants and animals according to the true relationships among things in the natural world. Such a system would necessarily be based on a complex assessment of numerous characteristics of the things being classified. This goal proved very difficult to attain, and some began to devise more artificial systems, sacrificing a broad focus on natural affinities for an easier-to-apply method using one or a few characteristics by which to sort and organize living organisms.

Linnaeus too saw the desirability of a natural system, and he published some basic principles for attaining one, but there were still not enough plants and animals known to allow for a sufficiently broad synthesis. Thus, for plants, he worked out an extremely simple system based on counting stamens and pistils , which provided an easy, practical, and usable means for sorting and identifying plants. The scheme was first published in Systema Naturae (1735), which contained tables in which the "three kingdoms of nature"animal, vegetable, and mineralwere comprehensively classified.

For plants Linnaeus defined a genus (plural: genera) as a group of species with similar flowers and fruits. Genera were grouped into twenty-three classes of flowering plants by the number and disposition of stamens, with a twenty-fourth class for apparently nonflowering plants. Within classes they were arranged into smaller groups or orders according to the number and disposition of pistils. This scheme was called the "sexual system" because of its focus on the reproductive organs of plants. It was simple enough that even amateurs could use it to sort plants and ascertain whether they were already known to science.

The eighteenth century saw an information explosion in the natural sciences, and the utility and practicality of Linnaeus's classification scheme lay in the way it facilitated processing of information about the natural world. His sexual system of classification, although controversial and not widely accepted at first, was in general use in many countries for nearly a century, after which it was supplanted by more natural systems. Although it fell from use, in its time it reduced confusion in the study of organisms and facilitated the advancement of botany and zoology by providing a stopgap measure until a natural classification system could be developed.

Naming of Organisms

The nomenclatural system that Linnaeus developed in the process of classifying nature proved to be of greater and more lasting benefit to biological science. In the century before Linnaeus, plants and animals were given long, descriptive names (known as polynomials ) to differentiate them. For example, the polynomial name of catnip was "Nepeta floribus interrupte spicatus pendunculatis" (Nepeta with flowers in an interrupted pedunculated spike). There were no universally applied rules for constructing these names, however, resulting in considerable confusion in naming and referring to living things.

Linnaeus's solution to this problem, which was first applied to the plant world, was to group plants by genus and provide genus names (retaining many already in familiar use, or coining new ones), and then to give each species within a genus a "trivial" name, or what is known now as a specific epithet, so that each would have a unique two-part name, thereby unequivocally identifying that species. These trivial names, often in the form of Latin adjectives, were not necessarily descriptive, but they were linked to descriptive information, diagnoses, and references to previous descriptions in botanical literature. For example, he named catnip Nepeta cataria (cat-associated Nepeta). This enabled scientists to identify organisms with greater certainty, and provided a solid means for expanding and advancing knowledge. All in all, Linnaeus named approximately forty-four hundred species of animals and seventy-seven hundred species of plants.

The use of shorter names did not originate with Linnaeus. Folk names for plants and animals are typically short, and some scientists, notably Caspar Bauhin (1560-1624), used one- or two-word names when possible. However, pre-Linnaean names were often longer, using more adjectives in order to differentiate species within genera. Linnaeus was the first to construct a methodical and consistent nomenclatural system and to apply it to all living organisms then known to European science. His system was so comprehensive and so conducive to an integrated view of past and contemporary botanical studies that it won widespread acceptance and continues in current usage.

The nomenclatural system for plants was first published in his landmark work, Species Plantarum (1753). For animals, a similar system was published in the tenth edition of Systema Naturae (1758). These two works form the baseline for current nomenclatural practice in botany and zoology. Taxonomists in both disciplines still refer to Linnaeus's works when checking names of organisms, as mandated by international codes of nomenclature in both disciplines.

see also Herbaria; Taxonomist; Taxonomy; Taxonomy, History of.

Charlotte A. Tancin


Blunt, Wilfrid. The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus. London: Collins, 1971.

Dickinson, A. Carl Linnaeus: Pioneer of Modern Botany. New York: Franklin Watts, 1967.

Frangsmyr, Tore, ed. Linnaeus: The Man and His Work. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983.

Goerke, H. Linnaeus, tr. Denver Lindley. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.

Gourlie, N. The Prince of Botanists: Carl Linnaeus. London: H. F. & G. Witherby Ltd., 1953.

Isely, Duane. One Hundred and One Botanists. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1994.

Kastner, Joseph. A Species of Eternity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.

Morton, Alan. G. History of Botanical Science: An Account of the Development of Botany from Ancient Times to the Present Day. London: Academic Press, 1981.

Reed, H. S. A Short History of the Plant Sciences. New York: Ronald Press Co., 1942.

Stafleu, Frans A. Linnaeus and the Linnaeans: The Spreading of Their Ideas in Systematic Botany, 1735-1789. Utrecht: A. Oosthoek's Uitgeversmaatschappij J.V. for the International Association for Plant Taxonomy, 1971.

Stearn, W. T. "The Background of Linnaeus's Contributions to the Nomenclature and Methods of Systematic Biology." Systematic Zoology 8, 1 (1959): 4-22.

Carl Linnaeus

views updated May 21 2018

Carl Linnaeus

The Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) established the binomial system of biological nomenclature, formalized biological classification, and gave the first organization to ecology.

Carl Linnaeus was born on May 23, 1707, in Ra°shult, the eldest of five children. Two years after his birth his father became the Lutheran minister at Stenbrohult. There young Carl had his own garden, which, he later remarked, "inflamed my soul with an unquenchable love of plants."

In 1716 Linnaeus went to the grammar school in nearby Växjö. He studied Latin, religion, mathematics, and science, but his interest in plants tended to interfere with his studies. A favorite book was Aristotle's Historia animalium, which his father had given him. His mother hoped he would enter the ministry, but he showed no interest in that career. Johan Rothman, a master at the high school, encouraged Linnaeus's interests in science and suggested that he study medicine. The father reluctantly agreed, and Rothman tutored Linnaeus in physiology and botany for a year.

In 1727 Linnaeus entered the University of Lund. The science and medical instruction was very weak, and after a year he transferred to Uppsala University, where he found that the two medical professors were old and seldom lectured. Fortunately, he soon attracted the interest of Olof Celsius, a theology professor who was interested in the plants of Sweden. Celsius gave him free room and board and became his mentor.

The most important contemporary development in botany was the study of the sexuality of plants. Linnaeus had learned of this discovery while at Växjö, but it was not generally known in Sweden. He wrote an essay on the subject, which Celsius showed to one of the professors of medicine, Olof Rudbeck. Rudbeck was so impressed with Linnaeus that he appointed him lecturer in botany and tutor of his sons.

His Travels

In 1732 Linnaeus received a grant from the Uppsala Scientific Society for a trip to Lapland. In 5 months he gained valuable knowledge of the Lapps and the natural resources of the country. The success of this trip led to invitations from the government at various times to make other trips to survey the resources of Sweden. On one of his journeys, through the province of Dalarna in 1734, he met Sara Lisa Moraea, to whom he became engaged.

Linnaeus needed a medical degree to become professionally established. At some European universities it could be earned by satisfactorily completing examinations and defending a thesis. In 1735 Linnaeus traveled to Holland, and after a week at the University of Harderwijk he took the examinations, defended his thesis on the cause of intermittent fever, and received his degree. He remained away from Sweden for 3 years, spending most of his time in Holland but also traveling in Germany, France, and England, meeting leading scientists as he went. He had brought with him a number of botanical manuscripts, and these won the admiration of the leading naturalists and the wealthy banker George Clifford.

These men provided Linnaeus with work and assisted in the publication of his manuscripts. The years in Holland were the most productive of his life: he published his Systema naturae, Bibliotheca botanica, Fundamenta botanica, Critica botanica, Flora Lapponica, Methodus sexualis, Genera plantarum, Classes plantarum, Hortus Cliffortianus, and lesser works. With understandable pride he concluded that in 3 years he had "written more, discovered more, and made a greater reform in botany than anybody before had done in an entire lifetime."

The Professor

Linnaeus returned to practice medicine in Stockholm. He was appointed physician to the Admiralty and soon had the best medical practice in Stockholm. In 1739 he married Sara Moraea; they had two sons and four daughters. Linnaeus became professor of botany at Uppsala University in 1741.

As a professor, Linnaeus was immensely successful. He had a genius for organization which he applied to both science and science education. His popularity with students was also based upon his attractive personality and his concern for their success. He taught botany, zoology, natural history, pharmacy, dietetics, and mineralogy. There were 186 students who defended these under his supervision. It was the custom for the adviser to write much, if not all, of the dissertation, and those which his students defended contained some of his important ideas in ecology and natural history. These theses were published separately and then collected into a periodical entitled Amoenitates academicae (1749-1790).

Linnaeus was not without detractors, some sincere, but many merely jealous. However, the love of his students and the value of his work ensured both his widespread influence and the receipt of many honors. He was appointed chief royal physician in 1747 and was knighted in 1758; he then took the name Carl von Linné. He retired in 1776 and was permitted to appoint as his successor his son Carl. Linnaeus died in Uppsala on Jan. 10, 1778.

Binomial Nomenclature and Classification

Linnaeus is most widely known for having introduced efficient procedures for naming and classifying plants and animals at a time when new species were being rapidly discovered by explorers. Before the insights of evolutionary theory provided a rationale for classification and nomenclature, the criteria used were arbitrarily chosen according to similarities in morphology, habitat, and man's uses of the species. In Linnaeus's day the problems of classification were most acutely felt in relation to flowering plants. Naturalists agreed that morphology was the most natural criterion, but in practice it was difficult to know which groups were most similar.

Linnaeus realized that new plants were being discovered faster than their morphological relationships could be established, and he decided to abandon for a while the attempt to achieve a natural classification. He devised a simple numerical classification based upon the number of floral parts. This system was so useful that it remained popular into the 19th century.

Gradually Linnaeus also developed a consistent system of names, in which each species of plant and animal had a genus name followed by a specific name: for example, Plantago virginica and Plantago lanceolata were the names of two species of plantain. Because he was the first to achieve a consistent and efficient system of nomenclature, botanists agreed in 1905 to accept his Species plantarum (2 vols., 1753) and zoologists agreed to accept the tenth edition of his Systema naturae (1758) as the official starting points for scientific names of plants and animals.

Ecology as the Economy of Nature

The subject of ecology as a distinct area of investigation was first outlined by Linnaeus in a thesis entitled Specimen academicum de oeconomia naturae, which was defended by one of his students in 1749. Linnaeus organized ecology around the balance of nature concept, which he named the "economy of nature." He emphasized the interrelationships in nature and was one of the first naturalists to describe food chains. He also studied plant succession, the diversity of habitat requirements among species, and the selective feeding habits of insects and hoofed animals. He was strongly interested in the distribution of species and studied their different means of dispersal. He urged the application of biological knowledge not only in medicine but also in agriculture, for he believed that the effective combating of agricultural pests must be based upon a thorough knowledge of their life histories.

Further Reading

Linnaeus, an extremely productive author, wrote in Latin and Swedish; some of his writings have been translated into English. A good introduction to his life and writings is The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus, by Wilfrid Blunt with the assistance of William T. Stearn (1971). The most thorough biography of Linnaeus is a two-volume study in Swedish by Theodor Magnus Fries, which was abridged and modified for English publication by Benjamin Daydon Jackson, Linnaeus (afterwards Carl von Linné): The Story of His Life (1923). Two shorter and more recent biographies are Knut Hjalmar Hagberg, Carl Linnaeus (trans. 1953), and Norah Gourlie, The Prince of Botanists: Carl Linnaeus (1953). The contributions of Linnaeus and his students are discussed by Robert E. Fries in A Short History of Botany in Sweden (1950). □

Linnaeus, Carl

views updated May 17 2018

Carl Linnaeus

Born: May 23, 1707
Råshult, Sweden
Died: January 10, 1778
Uppsala, Sweden

Swedish naturalist

The Swedish naturalist (student of natural history) Carl Linnaeus established the binomial (two-name) system of describing living things and gave the first organization to ecology (the relationships between living things and their environments).

Early years and education

Carl Linnaeus was born on May 23, 1707, in Råshult, Sweden, the eldest of Nils and Christina Linnaeus's five children. Two years after his birth his father became the minister at Stenbrohult, Sweden. It was there that his father, who was a lover of flowers, introduced botany (the study of plants) to Carl at a young age. And at the age of five Carl had his own garden, which he later said, "inflamed my soul with an unquenchable love of plants." Carl was more interested in plants than in his studies while in grammar school. His mother hoped he would become a minister, but he showed no interest in that career. Johan Rothman, a master at the high school, encouraged Carl's interests in science and suggested that he study medicine. Nils Linnaeus agreed, and Rothman tutored Carl for a year.

In 1727 Linnaeus entered the University of Lund. The science and medical instruction was very weak there, and after a year he transferred to Uppsala University, where things were not much better. Fortunately he attracted the interest of Olof Celsius, a religion professor who was interested in the plants of Sweden. Celsius gave Linnaeus free room and board and encouraged his study. The most important development in botany at the time was the study of the sexuality of plants. Linnaeus wrote an essay on the subject, which Celsius showed to one of the professors of medicine, Olof Rudbeck. Rudbeck was so impressed with Linnaeus that he appointed him lecturer in botany and tutor of his sons.

Linnaeus's travels

From 1732 to 1735 Linnaeus traveled throughout Sweden on behalf of the government to study the country's natural resources. Linnaeus then went to Holland to obtain a medical degree. In 1735, after a week at the University of Harderwijk, Linnaeus took the examinations, defended his thesis (a written statement containing original research and supporting a specific idea) on the cause of intermittent (not continuous) fever, and received his degree. He spent most of the next three years in Holland but also traveled in Germany, France, and England. He had many of his scientific papers published with the support of other naturalists and the wealthy banker George Clifford. Linnaeus concluded that in three years he had "written more, discovered more, and made a greater reform in botany than anybody before had done in an entire lifetime."

Linnaeus returned to practice medicine in Stockholm, Sweden, and he was very successful. In 1739 he married Sara Lisa Moraea, with whom he would have six children. Linnaeus became professor of botany at Uppsala University in 1741. He taught botany, zoology (the study of animals), natural history, and other subjects, and he was very popular with his students. The love of his students and the value of his work ensured his widespread influence and brought him many honors. He was appointed chief royal physician in 1747 and was knighted in 1758; he then took the name Carl von Linné. He retired in 1776 and died in Uppsala, Sweden, on January 10, 1778.

Binomial system and classification

Linnaeus is most widely known for creating systems for naming and classifying plants and animals. Realizing that new plants were being discovered faster than their relationships could be established, he first came up with a simple classification based upon the number of floral parts of each plant. This system remained popular into the nineteenth century. Gradually Linnaeus also developed a system of names in which each species of plant and animal had a genus (class or group) name followed by a specific name. For example, Plantago virginica and Plantago lanceolata were the names of two species of plantain (an herb). Botanists agreed in 1905 to accept his Species plantarum (1753) and zoologists (scientists who study animals) agreed to accept his Systema naturae (1758) as the official starting points for scientific names of plants and animals.

Pioneer in ecology

Linnaeus first discussed the subject of ecology as an area of investigation in a thesis in 1749. He discussed the importance of relationships among beings in nature, and he was one of the first naturalists to describe food chains. He also studied the different habitat (living space) requirements among species and the feeding habits of insects and animals with hoofs. He urged the use of biological knowledge not only in medicine but also in agriculture, believing that the effective control of agricultural pests must be based on a thorough knowledge of their life histories.

For More Information

Anderson, Margaret Jean. Carl Linnaeus: Father of Classification. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1997.

Blunt, Wilfred. A Life of Linnaeus. New York: Viking Press, 1971.

Blunt, Wilfrid. Linnaeus: The Compleat Naturalist. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Koerner, Lisbet. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Linnaeus, Carolus

views updated May 11 2018

Linnaeus, Carolus

Botanist 1707-1778

Carolus Linnaeus was born on May 23, 1707, in Råshult, Sweden. He died on January 10, 1778. Linnaeus was the founder of the modern scientific method of naming plants and animals. He was the first person to name each living thing with two names: the genus (group) and the species (kind). It was Linnaeus who first gave humans the scientific name Homo sapiens. Linnaeus, the son of the parish pastor, showed an early love of flowers. By the age of eight he was nicknamed "the little botanist." Linnaeus studied at the universities of Lund and Uppsala. He was appointed lecturer in botany at Uppsala in 1730. Two years later, with fifty dollars given to him by the Royal Society of Science, he explored Lapland, walking nearly 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) over a five-month period. From this experience, he wrote Flora Lapponica (1737), a book that firmly established his reputation. In 1735 he received his degree in medicine from Uppsala. While in medical school, he had a small botanical garden and wrote careful descriptions of its plants. These notes formed the basis for his later books. In Holland, he published his work on classifying and naming various plants in Systema Naturae (1735), Fundamenta Botanica (1736), Genera Plantarum (1737), and Critica Botanica (1737). Linnaeus created a revolutionary advance by introducing a Latin binomial (two-name) system: each species received a Latin name with two parts (the genus and the species). Linnaeus also recognized other, broader classification groups that are still used today: order, class, and kingdom. His system allowed plants to be placed rapidly in a named category, which was extremely useful during the eighteenth century, when new plants were being discovered at a very fast rate. Linnaeus classified not only plants and animals but also minerals and the kinds of diseases known in his day.

In 1738 Linnaeus returned to Sweden, settling in Stockholm, where he was very successful as a practicing physician. In 1739 he married Sara Moraea, the daughter of a physician. Two years later, he was appointed to the chair of medicine at Uppsala, but after a year he transferred to a chair of botany there. His later years were spent teaching and writing books. In 1761 he was knighted by the Swedish government in recognition of his work.

see also Binomial (Linnaean System).

Denise Prendergast


Muir, Hazel, ed. Larousse Dictionary of Scientists. New York: Larousse Kingfisher Chambers Inc., 1994.

The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1993.

Internet Resources

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology. <>.

Linnaeus, Carolus

views updated Jun 11 2018

Linnaeus, Carolus

Swedish botanist and taxonomist

Carolus Linnaeus developed the binomial system for naming organisms. Born Carl von Linné in Sweden, Linnaeus developed an early interest in botany and classification and later developed a new classification scheme for the growing numbers of plants and animals being discovered throughout the world. Linnaeus proposed using the number and arrangement of stamens and pistils in flowers as a simple set of characters to classify plants. This system was used widely for a time but later was replaced by more natural systems based on larger numbers of characters.

Linnaeus's most important contribution was the naming system he devised to accompany his classification system. In contrast to the complex and at times chaotic rules used by other botanists, Linnaeus proposed that each type of organism be called by a simple, two-part (binomial) name. Each plant in his system was given a genus name, which grouped the plant with other similar plants, and a species name, often a descriptive term, to make a combination unique for that organism. Each name was given in Latin. For instance, the white oak is Quercus alba (alba means white), while the red oak is Quercus rubra (rubra means red). This nomenclatural system was first published in Species Plantarum in 1753 and was widely and quickly accepted. While naming systems have grown more complex since his time, Linnaeus's binomial system for the genus and species is used today by all biologists.

see also Buffon, Count (Georges-Louis Leclerc); Taxonomy, History of

Richard Robinson


Isely, Duane. One Hundred and One Botanists. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1994.

Reed, H. S. A Short History of the Plant Sciences. New York: Ronald Press, 1942.

Linnaeus, Carolus

views updated May 23 2018

Linnaeus, Carolus ( Carl von Linné) (1707–78) A Swedish naturalist remembered for his large contributions to plant classification and his introduction of the binomial system of nomenclature. Trained as a botanist and physician in Uppsala, he went to Holland to continue his studies. While there he published the Systema Naturae (1735), a classified list of plants, animals, and minerals. The list grew in later editions, and the 10th edition (1758) is the starting-point of zoological nomenclature. In the first edition of his Genera Plantarum (1737) he gave more details of his artificial classification for plants based largely on the number of stamens and pistils in a flower and the manner in which they occurred. The system was very popular, because it allowed students to catalogue and recognize vegetation quickly; its popularity caused some difficulties when it had to be replaced by natural classifications. In 1741 he was appointed to the chair of medicine at Uppsala, but exchanged it within a year for the chair of botany. He then began listing species, grouping them into genera, genera into classes, and classes into orders. In 1749 he introduced binomial classification, a system that used a Latin generic noun followed by a specific adjective. Until this time, polynomial plant names comprised concise Latin descriptions, which restricted the growth of classification. Ironically, it was largely this new system that allowed the development of ideas about the evolution of species, a concept to which Linnaeus was opposed. Linnaeus published the specific names in his most important botanical work, Species Plantarum (1753), still the official starting-point of current botanical nomenclature. Altogether he completed around 180 works and was considered to be an excellent tutor. After his death, his collections and library were sold in 1784 to Sir James Edward Smith, the first president of the Linnean Society of London (founded in 1788) and in 1828 the Society purchased the collection, which it still holds. See also INTERNATIONAL CODE OF BOTANICAL NOMENCLATURE.

Linnaeus, Carolus

views updated May 17 2018

Linnaeus, Carolus( Carl von Linné) (1707–78)A Swedish naturalist remembered for his large contributions to plant classification and his introduction of the binomial system of nomenclature. Trained as a botanist and physician in Uppsala, he went to Holland to continue his studies. While there he published the Systema Naturae (1735), a classified list of plants, animals, and minerals. The list grew in later editions and the tenth edition (1758) is the starting-point of zoological nomenclature. In the first edition of his Genera Plantarum (1737) he gave more details of his artificial classification of plants, based largely on the number of stamens and pistils in a flower and the manner in which they occurred. The system was very popular, because it allowed students to catalogue and recognize vegetation quickly; its popularity caused some difficulties when it had to be replaced by natural classifications. In 1741 he was appointed to the chair of medicine at Uppsala, but exchanged it within a year for the chair of botany. He then began listing species, grouping them into genera, genera into classes, and classes into orders. In 1749 he introduced binomial classification, a system which used a Latin generic noun followed by a specific adjective. Until this time, polynomial plant names comprised concise Latin descriptions, which restricted the growth of classification. Ironically, it was largely this new system that allowed the development of ideas about the evolution of species, a concept to which Linnaeus was opposed. Linnaeus published the specific names in his most important botanical work, Species Plantarum (1753), still the official starting-point of current botanical nomenclature. Altogether he completed around 180 works and was considered to be an excellent tutor. After his death, his collections and library were sold in 1784 to Sir James Edward Smith, the first president of the Linnean Society of London (founded in 1788) and in 1828 the Society purchased the collection, which it still holds. See also International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Linnaeus, Carolus

views updated May 21 2018

Linnaeus, Carolus (1707–78) ( Carl von Linné) Swedish botanist and taxonomist. Linnaeus' Systema Naturae (1735) laid the foundation of taxonomy by including all known organisms in a single classification system. He was one of the first scientists to define clearly the differences between species, and he devised the system of binomial nomenclature, which gave standardized Latin names to every organism.

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