Known as the greatest taxonomist of all time, the life of Carl von Linnaeus is that of an explorer of his own country. Coming from a family of Lutheran pastors, the young man did not want to exercise the family profession, focusing on the sciences.
As if he was a discoverer of the New World, Carl von Linnaeus was responsible for describing every plant, animal, or even culture that was found in the dark forests of his Scandinavian nation, gradually developing the binomial classification system that continues today. to use the scientific community.
Below we will learn about the life of this peculiar Swedish botanist and naturalist, who did well to make his native Sweden the center of botany and taxonomic studies, by a biography of Carl von Linnaeus.
Brief biography of Carl von Linnaeus
Carl Nilsson Linnaeus, known as Carl von Linnaeus or Charles Linnaeus, was born on May 23, 1707 Råshult, Sweden. He was the son of Nils Ingemarsson, a Lutheran pastor with a passion for plants, and Christina Brodersonia, the daughter of a Protestant pastor.
At the age of two, he moved with his parents to Stenbronhult, a region in southern Sweden. characterized by being particularly green and full of all kinds of plant species. There, his father began to structure and maintain the garden of the local church, enriching it with plants from other regions. The young Carl therefore learned from his childhood his love of plants and continued this passion inherited from his father to continue the study of botany and animals.
In 1716 Carl began his Latin studies at Växjö Cathedral. From an early age he showed an interest in the natural sciences and knowledge of the species, which led him to engage in collecting plants and insects. His Latin studies helped him to deepen his scientific knowledge because the language of Plutarch was the vehicle of transmission of the highest knowledge of the time.
This is when had the opportunity to meet Johan Rothman, an experienced botanist who introduced the young Carl to the Tournefort classification system, A system that organized plants according to the corolla of their flowers. He also had the opportunity to discover Sébastien Vaillant’s work on plant reproduction as well as access to Herman Boerhaave’s “Institutiones medicae”.
From an early age, the young Carl Linnaeus fascinated everything related to the structure and reproduction of plants. Although he grew up in a family with a long religious lineage, the young man does not show a religious vocation and prefers to devote himself to the world of natural sciences. In 1727 he began his medical studies at Lund University at the age of twenty, although this discipline did not arouse much interest in him as it did in researching insects and plants in near his university residence.
This interest in plants and animals caught the attention of Kilian Strobaeus, A man who lived in Lund and owned a large library. Strobaeus gave young Linnaeus permission to consult his library, which greatly affected young Carl’s life. It was this experience that would motivate him in his vocation as a naturalist.
After the first year of study at Lund University, he transferred to Uppsala University, which was then the main educational center in Sweden.
To move on, the young Carl von Linnaeus he devoted himself to taking courses in botany in order to be able to provide for himself financially. Despite his precarious economic situation, Linnaeus was able to cover the costs of what would become his first botanical and ethnological expedition to Lappish lands around 1731. Leaning on a young horse, a few coins, a notebook and a pencil, he is entered the unknown and the darkness Nordic forests.
On his journey through Lapland, a region comprising present-day northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, Carl von Linnaeus be able to discover hundreds of species that had never been scientifically cataloged. Although he did not leave his own country, Linnaeus felt like a true explorer of the New World, but he did so in Sweden itself.
Coupled with his compulsive obsession with wanting everything to be well organized and meticulously named, Linnaeus began his titanic task of naming and classifying every specimen, animal or plant that crossed his path. In addition, he had the opportunity to know what the Saami towns looked like, that is to say the different Lappish cultures of the region. The work of this period is not only that of a great naturalist but also that of an exhaustive and attentive anthropologist.
His observations and discoveries in Lappish lands enabled him to publish one of his most important works years later: “Flora lapponica”. The studies and data presented in this article have aroused the interest of the Swedish scientific community and also that of other places in Europe. His travels to Lapland also motivated him to deepen the study of minerals and to come up with a classification system for rocks and glass.
After the success of his first expedition to Lapland, which had allowed him to discover a whole new world in his own country, Linnaeus decided to embark on a second expedition in 1734. This time, he will be accompanied by ten volunteers with whom he will travel. would devote. himself to visit and study the flora of the Dalarna region in central Sweden. This expedition had the financial contribution of the governor of this region and resulted in the publication of “Iter Dalecarlicum”.
In 1735 he had the opportunity to meet the family of Dr. Johan Moraeus, paying special attention to his daughter Sara Lisa. Linnaeus asked Moraeus for his daughter’s hand, and although the doctor granted it, he placed it as a prerequisite for marriage to immediately end his medical studies. So Carlos Linnaeus decided to travel to Holland to finish his medical career at Harderwijk University in the spring of 1735. There he received his doctorate presenting a thesis in which he spoke about the origins of malaria: “Febrium inttermitentium Causa”
Later it would move to Leiden, place that would see edited several of its more important works, between which was own “Flora lapponica” (1737). It would also be here that he would obtain from the senator of this city the necessary financing to publish his most important work: “Systema naturae” (1735)
While still in the Netherlands, Carl von Linnaeus had the opportunity to meet great Dutch botanists, including Jan Frederik Gronovius and George Clifford III, a wealthy plant lover, who commissioned him to rearrange and take care of his garden, botanist in particular. It is from this work that would be born his work “Hortus Cliffortianus” (Clifford’s Garden, 1737), in which he studies and classifies the plants of his rich friend.
Other works he will publish in the Netherlands are “Botanical Foundation” and “Botanical Library”. In 1737 he published “Critica Botanica”, “Genera Plantarum”, “Hortus Cliffortianus” and “Flora lapponica”. Shortly before leaving Holland, in 1738, he published “Classes Plantarum”. In these works shows his particular system of classification of plants, in which he uses as a criterion the characteristics of the reproductive organs of plants.
In 1736 he went to Oxford and met eminent English naturalists, including the great botanist JJ Dillenius. He also took the opportunity to visit France and, soon after, managed to become the eighth foreign member of the Paris Academy of Sciences. His influence in the scientific world was growing and through his travels he was able to exchange specimens of plants and animals. He also obtained seeds to reproduce in his many botanical gardens that he had himself founded.
In 1738 he returned to Sweden where, as a physician, he studied and specialized in the treatment of syphilis.. At Uppsala University he was awarded for his medical work, in addition to receiving the task of reorganize the botanical garden of the same university. Linnaeus would take this opportunity to apply his already famous binomial taxonomic system.
In 1739, he pushed for the creation of the Stockholm Academy of Sciences, of which he was the first president. In 1741 he was appointed professor of medicine at the University of Uppsala, and the following year he received the chair of botany, dietetics and medicine, degrees much more in line with the already extensive practical knowledge he possessed. . Holding these chairs, Linnaeus would make Uppsala University the center for European botanical study.
Linnaeus’ scientific discoveries resonated throughout Swedish society to such an extent that the political group of “hattar” (“hats” in Swedish) began to encourage and support the mercantile and scientific expeditions promoted by the naturalist. Sweden was expanding imperialistically and had a keen interest in establishing trade independent from the rest of Europe. This is why the Swedish bourgeoisie began to support any expedition involving the discovery of a new trade route to any region rich in resources.
Linnaeus he played a decisive and influential role in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Taking advantage of his leadership position, he made contact with the Swedish East India Company with the intention of obtaining the necessary financial support to be able to organize his botanical expeditions in inhospitable regions. Not only did he want to thoroughly document all animal and plant species in Sweden, but also those in the rest of Europe and, if possible, around the world.
It was then that Linnaeus decided to recruit a group of young students, whom he would baptize as “apostles”, to help him in his many expeditions around the world. They would visit all the places they had and to have, both under the command of Linnaeus himself and under the direction of other great explorers like James Cook.
Despite its commercial and scientific success the expeditions promoted by Linnaeus were very dangerous. Many of the young students who made up the “apostles” eventually died or were driven mad by the harshness of the expeditions. Getting away from Mother Sweden was already risky, but traveling to unknown territories in South America or Asia was, on many occasions, visiting hell itself.
The Linnaean system in taxonomy
The current binomial system for the classification of species is due to Carlos Linnaeus. We have the first ideas of his theory for this system around 1730, when Linnaeus had already developed his own system of classifying plants based on observations made by Vaillant on the reproductive organs of flowering plants. Linnaeus he believed that morphology was the perfect basis for organizing botanical systems and applied it in his naturalistic work..
As he discovered and described new species, his classification system changed. He has strived to create a system that is as natural and as close as possible to reality itself, and, although timidly, his writings suggest certain evolutionary beliefs. While at first he believed that the species of the earth were immutable from creation, he later changed his mind, considering that through hybridization and cross-pollination he could create new “species.” vegetable.
His most important botanical work is “Species Plantarum”, published in 1753. This book, which is a compilation of all his theoretical and practical fieldwork, took him over five years to write and he thought he would never see it finished. In him its binomial system settles down definitively to order the plants, due to its theoretical similarity with other species and the own characteristics of the variety. He went so far as to name 8,000 plants.
Linnaeus’ binomial system consists of giving two names in Latin to each species, which makes it its scientific name. The first word, starting with a capital letter, refers to the genus, while the second refers to the species or subspecies of the particular plant, animal or other organism. Both words are in Latin or are Latinized words from non-Romance languages.
This system was so functional that it was not long in establishing itself. In addition, it made it possible to give more “family names” to the species, the establishment of other taxa greater than the genus which made it possible to specify more concretely what was the location of the species in the phylogenetic tree. Naturally, this idea was very advanced at the time and each taxon has become more precise over the past 300 years.
For example, the scientific and binomial name of the wolf is “Canis lupus”. “Canis” is the genus common with other species, such as the fox. The taxonomic pyramid in which the wolf is found is as follows.
- Species: Canis lupus
- Genus: Canis
- Family: Canidae (Canidae)
- Order: Carnivores
- Class: Mammals (Mammalia)
- Subphylum: vertebrates (vertebrates)
- Subject: Cordados (Chordata)
- Kingdom: Animal
In addition, each species could be grouped into subspecies. In the case of the dog, we have “Canis lupus familiaris”. This name refers to the fact that, in fact, dogs and wolves are part of the same species, but the dog has its own characteristics that make it so different from its wild relative that it is almost another species.
He spent his last years in Sweden as a professor of medicine and botany. in 1758 moved to a residence near Hammarby. In 1762 received the title that gave the rank of noble him by its scientific merits, since with its task it had obtained that cold and apparently small European Sweden became an authentic scientific center. This is when Carl Nilsson Linnaeus would officially take the name Carl von Linnaeus.
In the early 1770s, Carl von Linnaeus’ strengths began to wane. In the spring of 1774, he suffered a stroke from which he recovered with some after-effects. He gradually became paralyzed and lost his memory, being unable to recognize the most common and simple plant. The highest classifier of living species was no longer able to classify anything. Carl von Linnaeus died on January 10, 1778, at the age of 70.
- Sousby, BH (1933): A catalog of the works of Linnaeus. London
- Fries, TM (1923): Linnaeus The story of his life. London
- Blunt, Wilfrid (1971): The Complete Naturalist. A life of Linnaeus. London.