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Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné)

Carl von Linné, Alexander Roslin, 1775. Currently owned by and hanging at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
BornMay 13 1707(1707-05-13) (see
article notes)
Råshult, Älmhult, Sweden
DiedJanuary 10 1778 (aged 70)
Uppsala, Sweden
Residence Sweden
Nationality Swedish
FieldZoology, medicine, botany
Alma materUppsala University
University of Harderwijk
Known forTaxonomy
Botany auth. abbrev.L.
Religious stanceChurch of Sweden
Linnaeus adopted the name Carl von Linné after his 1761 ennoblement awarded him the title von. He is the father of Carolus Linnaeus the Younger.

Carl Linnaeus, Latinized as Carolus Linnaeus, also known after his ennoblement as Carl von Linné  , (May 13, 1707[1] – January 10, 1778), was a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist[2] who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of nomenclature. He is known as the "father of modern taxonomy." He is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology (see History of ecology).

Linnaeus was born on the country-side in Småland, in southern Sweden. He got most of his higher education at Uppsala University and began giving lectures of botany there in 1730. He lived abroad between 1735–1738 where he studied and also published a first edition of his Systema Naturae in the Netherlands. He then returned to Sweden where he became professor of botany at Uppsala. In the 1740s he was sent on several journeys through Sweden to find and classify plants and animals. In the 1750s and 60s he continued to collect and classify animals, plants and mineralia; publishing several volumes. At the time of his death, he was widely renowned throughout Europe as one of the most acclaimed scientists of the time.

The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau sent him the message: "Tell him I know no greater man on earth."[3] The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: "With the exception of Shakespeare and Spinoza, I know no one among the no longer living who has influenced me more strongly."[3] Swedish author August Strindberg wrote: "Linnaeus was in reality a poet who happened to become a naturalist".[4]

The author abbreviation used to indicate Linnaeus as the authority for species names is simply, L.



The name of this scientist comes in different variants: 'Carl Linnaeus', 'Carolus Linnaeus' and 'Carl von Linné', sometimes just 'Carl Linné'. There is often confusion about his real Swedish name, as opposed to the Latinized form 'Carolus Linnaeus' he used most when he published his scientific works in Latin.

In Linnaeus' time, most Swedes had no surnames. Linnaeus' grandfather was named Ingemar Bengtsson (son of Bengt), according to Scandinavian tradition. Linnaeus' father was known as Nils Ingemarsson (son of Ingemar). Only for registration purposes, for example when matriculating at a university, one needed a surname. In the academic world, Latin was the language of choice, so when Linnaeus' father went to the University of Lund, he coined himself a Latin surname: Linnaeus, referring to a large linden (lime) tree,[5] the warden tree of the family property Linnagård (linn being an archaic form of Swedish lind, the linden). Nils Ingemarsson Linnaeus gave his son the name Carl. So the Swedish name of the boy was Carl Linnaeus.[6]

When Carl Linnaeus enrolled in private school as student at the University of Lund, he was registered as 'Carolus Linnaeus'. This Latinized form was the name he used when he published his works in Latin. After he was ennobled, in 1761,[7] he took the name Carl von Linné. 'Linné' is thus a shortened version of 'Linnaeus', 'von' is added to signify his ennoblement.

    When referring to or citing the author Linnaeus, it is appropriate to use 'Carl Linnaeus', 'Carolus Linnaeus' or just 'Linnaeus'. 'Carl von Linné' seems to be less suitable, especially for the works he published before 1762. On the title page of the second edition of Species plantarum (1762) the author's name is still printed as 'Carolus Linnaeus' (or rather the genitive form 'Caroli Linnaei') but from then on, his name is quite consistently printed as 'Carolus a Linne' or 'Carl von Linné'. Stafleu[2] uses 'Carl Linnaeus' as the author's name for all his works. In Sweden, he is commonly known by his ennobled name Carl von Linné.

The adjectival form of his name is usually 'Linnaean', but the prestigious Linnean Society of London has a journal The Linnean, awards the Linnean Medal, and so on.


Early life

  Linnaeus was born on the farm Råshult, located in Älmhult Municipality, in the province of Småland in southern Sweden, on May 23 1707. He was groomed as a youth to be a churchman, walking in his father's path, but showed little enthusiasm for it. In 1717 he was sent to the primary school at the city Växjö, and in 1724 he passed to the gymnasium there, but with meager results in the clerical faculty. Instead his interest in botany made an impression on a local physician, who realized there might be a future in the field for the young Linnaeus, and on his recommendation Linnaeus's father sent his son to study at the closest university, Lund University. Linnaeus studied in Lund and tried to make something of the botanical garden there, but because it had been neglected, it was suggested to him that he would have better prospects at the University of Uppsala; Linnaeus left for Uppsala within a year.[8]

His time in Uppsala was financially rough, until he became acquainted with the renowned scientist Olof Celsius, uncle of astronomer Anders Celsius, who came up with the temperature scale that was given his name. Celsius, impressed with Linnaeus's knowledge and botanical collections, offered him board and lodging.[8]

During this period, he came upon a work which ultimately led to the establishment of his artificial system of plant classification. This was a review of Sébastien Vaillant's Sermo de Structura Florum (Leiden, 1718), a thin quarto in French and Latin. Through this, he became convinced of the importance of the stamens and pistils, about which he wrote a short treatise on the sexes of plants in 1729. This caught the attention of Olof Rudbeck the Younger (1660-1740), the professor of botany in the university, who subsequently appointed Linnaeus his adjunct. In 1730, Linnaeus began giving lectures in the faculty.[8]

In 1732 the Academy of Sciences at Uppsala financed Linnaeus on an expedition to Lappland in northernmost Sweden, then virtually unknown. The result of this was first The Florula Lapponica (the first work to use the Sexual System) and later the Flora Lapponica published in 1737. His journey to sub-Arctic Lapland is notable for exotic and adventurous episodes.

He married Sara Elisabeth Morea and had seven children, Carolus, Elisabeth, Sara Magdalena, Lovisa, Sara Christina, Johannes, and Sophie.


Travel and research

In 1735 Linnaeus moved to the Netherlands, where he was to spend the next three years. Here he earned his only academic degree, at the University of Harderwijk, in 6 days. This degree in Medicine consisted of a three day printing job of his botanical notes in Latin. He met with Albertus Seba, a drugist, and the botanist Jan Frederik Gronovius and showed him a draft of his work on taxonomy, the Systema Naturae. This was published in the Netherlands the same year, as an eleven page work. [8] Linnaeus stayed in the Netherlands for 12 months, until he made a journey to London in 1736, where he visited Oxford University and met several highly regarded people, such as the physicist Hans Sloane, the botanist Philip Miller and the professor of botany J. J. Dillenius. The journey lasted a few months, after which he returned to Amsterdam, and continued the printing of his Genera Plantarum, the starting point of his taxonomy.

  In 1737 Linnaeus spent a year studying and working on the Heemstede garden of George Clifford, a wealthy Amsterdam banker introduced to him by Herman Boerhaave. Clifford had many business connections with Dutch merchants and collected plants from around the world. His garden was famous. Linnaeus published the description of Clifford's garden as Hortus Cliffortianus. In 1738, the work was done, and he started his journey back home. On his way he stayed in Leiden for a year, during which he had his Classes Plantarum printed; then travelling to Paris, before setting sail for Stockholm.[8]

Back in Sweden

Returning to Sweden in 1738, he practiced medicine (specializing in the treatment of syphilis) and lectured in Stockholm before being awarded a professorship at Uppsala in 1741. At Uppsala, in the University's botanical garden, he arranged the plants according to his system of classification; he then made three more expeditions to various parts of Sweden and inspired a generation of students. Linnaeus continued to revise his Systema Naturae, which grew from a slim pamphlet into a multivolume work, as his ideas were changing and more and more plant and animal specimens were sent to him from every corner of the globe. His pride in his work was very much evident; he thought of himself as a second Adam. He liked to say ' Deus creavit, Linnaeus disposuit, ' Latin for, "God created, Linnaeus organized". This self-perception was further shown by the artwork on the cover of his Systema Naturae, which depicts a man giving Linnaean names to new creatures as they are created in the Garden of Eden.

  Arriving in Stockholm, he settled as a physician. In September 1739 Linnaeus married Sara Elisabeth Morea (Moræaus) and the marriage took place at her family farm Sveden outside Falun; Sara he had met on one of his first scientific journeys to the county of Dalarna already five years earlier 1734. In 1739 he was one of the founders of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Kungliga vetenskapsakademin). In 1741 he ascended to the chair of medicine at Uppsala and moved there. The position was soon exchanged for the chair of botany.[8]

In 1743-44, Linnaeus designed today's thermometer scale by reversing that invented by Anders Celsius (1701-1744)--originally 100 was the melting point of ice and 0 water’s boiling point[3]. Throughout the 1740s he conducted numerous field trips to many locations in Sweden to classify plants and animals: in 1741 to the Stora Alvaret on Öland and also to Gotland; in 1746 to Västergötland; and in 1749 to Scania including visits to the Kullaberg. The reports of each travel were published in the Swedish language to be accessible for the general public. Apart from containing many important reports of common life of that time, they have in recent years been appreciated for their fine treatment of the Swedish language, indeed putting Linnaeus as one of the foremost Swedish writers of the 18th century.[10]

  When not on travels, Linnaeus worked on his classifications, extending them to the kingdom of animals and the kingdom of minerals. The last may seem somewhat odd, but the theory of evolution was still a long time away. Linnaeus was only attempting a convenient way of categorizing the elements of the natural world.

The Swedish king, Adolf Fredrik, ennobled Linnaeus in 1757, and after the privy council finally had confirmed the ennoblement (in 1761 after a few years of discussions) Linnaeus took the surname von Linné, later often signing just Carl Linné.

Last years

    After his ennoblement, he continued teaching and writing. His reputation had spread over the world, and he corresponded with many different people. For example, Catherine II of Russia sent him seeds from her country.[11] He also corresponded with Joannes A. Scopoli, "the Linnaeus of the Austrian Empire", who was a doctor and a botanist in Idrija, Duchy of Carniola (nowadays Slovenia). Scopoli communicated all of his research, findings, and descriptions (for example, olm and dormouse, two little animals which were not known to Linnaeus) to him for several years, but because of the great distance they were never able to meet. Linnaeus named for him the solanaceous genus Scopolia from which scopolamine is derived.[12][13]

Of Linnaeus' children, five reached adult age: four girls and one boy. Only the boy, Carolus Linnaeus the Younger, was allowed to study. He did not have the same passion as his father, but managed to make a reputation in botany. At the father's death, the son succeeded him as professor; however, he died only five years later. The son is commonly referred to as filius (abbreviated "L. f.") to distinguish him from his famous father.[11]

Linnaeus' last years were troubled by weak health, and he suffered from gout and tooth aches.[11] A stroke in 1774 greatly weakened him, and two years later he suffered another, losing the use of his right side. He died in January 1778 in Uppsala, during a ceremony in Uppsala Cathedral. He was buried in the cathedral.[8]

Linnaean taxonomy

Main article: Linnaean taxonomy

Linnaeus's prime contribution to taxonomy was to establish conventions for the naming of living organisms that became universally accepted in the scientific world--the work of Linnaeus represents the starting point of binomial nomenclature. In addition Linnaeus developed, during the great 18th century expansion of natural history knowledge, what became known as the Linnaean taxonomy; the system of scientific classification now widely used in the biological sciences.

The Linnaean system classified nature within a hierarchy, starting with three kingdoms. Kingdoms were divided into Classes and they, in turn, into Orders, which were divided into Genera (singular: genus), which were divided into Species (singular: species). Below the rank of species he sometimes recognized taxa of a lower (unnamed) rank (for plants these are now called "varieties").

His groupings were based upon shared physical characteristics. Only his groupings for animals remain to this day, and the groupings themselves have been significantly changed since Linnaeus' conception, as have the principles behind them. Nevertheless, Linnaeus is credited with establishing the idea of a hierarchical structure of classification which is based upon observable characteristics. While the underlying details concerning what are considered to be scientifically valid 'observable characteristics' has changed with expanding knowledge (for example, DNA sequencing, unavailable in Linnaeus' time, has proven to be a tool of considerable utility for classifying living organisms and establishing their relationships to each other), the fundamental principle remains sound.

Linnaeus is regarded by some contemporary humanities scholars as "The Father of Scientific racism". The charge is that, through his works he bound observable differences in 'race' with uncorroborated discriminatory stereotypes that precisely elevated the European 'race' above the "darker" races. It also made divisions that were biologically and taxonomically unsound, leading (some speculate) to the institution of scientific racism, which persists today.[4]


Linnaeus presented a concept of 'race' as applied to humans, also including mythological creatures. Within Homo sapiens he proposed five taxa of a lower (unnamed) rank. These categories were Africanus, Americanus, Asiaticus, Europeanus, and Monstrosus. They were based on place of origin at first, and later on skin colour.[14] Each race had certain characteristics that he considered endemic to individuals belonging to it. Native Americans were choleric, red, straightforward, eager and combative. Africans were phlegmatic, black, slow, relaxed and negligent. Asians were melancholic, yellow, inflexible, severe and avaricious. Europeans were sanguine and pale, muscular, swift, clever and inventive. The "monstrous" humans included such entities as the "agile and fainthearted" dwarf of the Alps, the Patagonian giant, and the monorchid Hottentot. [15]

In addition, in Amoenitates academicae (1763), he defined Homo anthropomorpha as a catch-all term for a variety of human-like mythological creatures, including the troglodyte, satyr, hydra, and phoenix. He claimed that these creatures not only actually existed but were in reality inaccurate descriptions of real-world ape-like creatures.

He also, in Systema Naturæ, defined Homo ferus as "four-footed, mute, hairy". Included in this classification were Juvenis lupinus hessensis (wolf boys), who he thought were raised by animals, Juvenis hannoveranus (Peter of Hanover) and Puella campanica (Wild-girl of Champagne).

Linnaeus' scientifical research took science on a path that diverged from what had been taught by religious authorities. The Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala had accused him of "impiety." In a letter to Johann Georg Gmelin dated February 25, 1747, Linnaeus wrote:

  • Original Latin

Non placet, quod Hominem inter ant[h]ropomorpha collocaverim, sed homo noscit se ipsum. Removeamus vocabula. Mihi perinde erit, quo nomine utamur. Sed quaero a Te et Toto orbe differentiam genericam inter hominem et Simiam, quae ex principiis Historiae naturalis. Ego certissime nullam novi. Utinam aliquis mihi unicam diceret! Si vocassem hominem simiam vel vice versa omnes in me conjecissem theologos. Debuissem forte ex lege artis.

  • English Translation[16]

It is not pleasing to me that I must place humans among the primates, but man is intimately familiar with himself. Let's not quibble over words. It will be the same to me whatever name is applied. But I desperately seek from you and from the whole world a general differerence between men and simians from the principles of Natural History. I certainly know of none. If only someone might tell me one! If I called man a simian or vice versa I would bring together all the theologians against me. Perhaps I ought to, in accordance with the law of the discipline [of Natural History].


Systema Naturae

Main article: Systema Naturae

  The first edition of Systema Naturae was printed in the Netherlands in 1735. It was an eleven page work. By the time it reached its 10th edition (1758), it classified 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants. In it, the unwieldy names mostly used at the time, such as "Physalis annua ramosissima, ramis angulosis glabris, foliis dentato-serratis", were supplemented with concise and now familiar "binomials", composed of the generic name, followed by a specific epithet - in the case given, Physalis angulata. These binomials could serve as a label to refer to the species. Higher taxa were constructed and arranged in a simple and orderly manner. Although the system, now known as binomial nomenclature, was developed by the Bauhin brothers (see Gaspard Bauhin and Johann Bauhin) almost 200 years earlier, Linnaeus was the first to use it consistently throughout the work, also in monospecific genera, and may be said to have popularized it within the scientific community.

Linnaeus named taxa in ways that personally struck him as common-sensical; for example, human beings are Homo sapiens (see sapience). He also briefly described a second human species, Homo troglodytes ("cave-dwelling man"). This was however likely a confusion originating from exaggerated second- or third-hand accounts of the chimpanzee (currently most often placed in a different genus, as Pan troglodytes). The group "mammalia" are named for their mammary glands because one of the defining characteristics of mammals is that they nurse their young.

Species Plantarum

Main article: Species Plantarum

Species Plantarum was first published in 1753, as a two-volume work. Its prime importance is perhaps that it is the primary starting point of plant nomenclature as it exists today.

In 1754 Linnaeus divided the plant Kingdom into 25 classes. One, Cryptogamia, included all the plants with concealed reproductive parts (algae, fungi, mosses and liverworts and ferns).[17]


Carolus imbued his students with his own thoroughness in an atmosphere of enthusiasm, trained them to close and accurate observation, and then sent them to various parts of the globe. Some of the notable students and expeditions include Pehr Kalm's visit to North America 1748–1751; Daniel Solander, traveling first with James Cook's expedition to the Pacific in 1768, then in 1771 to Iceland, the Faroes and Orkney; Fredric Hasselquist, who visited Palestine and parts of Asia Minor; and Carl Peter Thunberg, journeying to Japan, South Africa, Java, and Sri Lanka.

See also


  • Linnean Society of London
  • Linnaeus Arboretum
  • Jonas C. Dryander
  • Peter Artedi
  • Sir John Hill. One of Linnaeus' most constant correspondents in England.
  • History of phycology
  • Linnaea borealis (commonly known as Twinflower) a boreal plant named after Linnaeus, the naming made by Linnaeus' teacher, Jan Frederik Gronovius


  1. ^ “Carl Linnaeus was born in Råshult, Småland, in 1707 on May 13th (Old Style) or 23rd according to our present calendar.” Citation: Linnaeus the child by Uppsala University. "Old Style" in the cited text refers to the Swedish calendar.
  2. ^ a b Stafleu, F.A. (1976-1998) Taxonomic Literature second edition. An authoritative work on the names of botanists, their works and publication data, issued under the auspices of the IAPT.
  3. ^ a b "What people have said about Linnaeus", Uppsala University website "Linné on line" English language version.
  4. ^ Linnaeus deceased Uppsala University website "Linné on line" English language version.
  5. ^ (Swedish) Lind on Den virtuella floran, by The Swedish Museum of Natural History, accessed on 14 May 2006
  6. ^ Stearn, W.T. (1992), Botanical Latin, fourth edition: p. 283-284, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. ISBN 978-0-88192-321-6.
  7. ^ W.T. Stearn, (1957), An introduction to the Species Plantarum and cognate botanical works of Carl Linnaeus, Principal events in the life of Linnaeus; in: Carl Linnaeus, Species Plantarum, A Facsimile of the first edition 1753, Volume I: 14, Ray Society, London.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, article Linnaeus. Suggested direct-link: [1], accessed September 1.
  9. ^ Sörling & Fagerstedt, p.32
  10. ^ Algulin, Ingemar, A History of Swedish Literature (1989), p.43
  11. ^ a b c Uppsala University, Linné Online, English language version
  12. ^ Soban, Branko (January 2005). A Living Bond between Idrija and Uppsala. Slovenija.svet. Slovene Emigrant Association. Retrieved on 2007-12-01.
  13. ^ Scopoli, Giovanni Antonio. Joannes A. Scopoli-Carl Linnaeus. Dopisovanje/Correspondence 1760-1775, ed. Darinka Soban. Slovenian Natural history society. 
  14. ^ Page 29 of Linnaeus's Systema naturae per regna tria naturae. Google Books (1767). Retrieved on 2007-12-02.
  15. ^ Linnaeus, Carolus: Systema Naturae (1767), p. 29. [2]
  16. ^
  17. ^ Hoek, C.van den, Mann, D.G. and Jahns, H.M. 2005. Algae An Introduction to Phycology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 0 521 30419 9

Further reading

  • Brightwell, C. L. A Life of Linnaeus. London: J. Van Voorst, 1858.
  • Hovey, Edmund Otis. The Bicentenary of the Birth of Carolus Linnaeus. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1908.
  • Sörlin & Fagerstedt, Linné och hans lärjungar, 2004. ISBN 91-27-35590-X
  • J.L.P.M.Krol, Linneaus' verblijf op de Hartekamp In: Het landgoed de Hartekamp in Heemstede. Heemstede, 1982. ISBN 90-70712-01-6
  • There is an article "A Passion for Order" published in National Geographic Magazine June 2007 edition about Linnaeus, commemorating his 300 years birth anniversary.
  • Linneaus plays a significant role in the short story entitled "Rare Bird" by Andrea Barrett (which appears in her 1996 anthology "Ship Fever").
  • Correspondence
  • Biography at The Linnean Society of London
  • Linnean Herbarium
  • The Linnæus Tercentenary celebration
  • IK Foundation & Company Linnaeus Project
NAME Linnaeus, Carolus
SHORT DESCRIPTION botanist and physician
DATE OF BIRTH 1707-05-23
PLACE OF BIRTH Råshult, Älmhult, Sweden
DATE OF DEATH 1778-01-10
PLACE OF DEATH Uppsala, Sweden
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Carl_Linnaeus". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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