Carl Linnaeus

A student beginning the study of Forestry at the collegiate level soon learns that they have to identify and memorize the names of numerous trees. If that weren’t hard enough, most colleges require that you know the common name and scientific (Genus, species) names, as well. As was explained to me many years ago by my Dendrology Professor, many trees have numerous common names, depending on who is naming them, and in what part of the country they live. But there is only one Genus and species name for a given tree, so there should not be any misunderstandings when you speak in terms of the scientific name. Case in point, the common name for “Liriodendron tuliperifera “could be yellow poplar, tulip poplar, tulip tree, poplar tree, etc. depending on the individual’s bias, or your location in the country. In a conversation between two people referencing a poplar tree, one person may be talking about a yellow poplar, but the other may be thinking about a quaking aspen. But a Lirodendron tuliperfera should mean the same to both people. This system of classification was developed in the 1700’s by a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist by the name of Carl Linnaeus.

Carl Linnaeus was born in Sweden in 1707. He was part of a large family whose father was a Lutheran Minister. As part of their upbringing, the children learned Latin as a first language before they were fluent in the Swedish language. Besides being a Minister, the elder Linnaeus was an amateur botanist, and he instilled a deep interest in Botany in his son, Carl. As a boy, Carl was fascinated by plants—especially flowers, and spent many hours examining the parts of various flowers growing in the village gardens. At 17 years of age, The young man was sent off to pursue a vocation in Ministry, but it soon became clear to his teachers that his heart was not in Ministry. Soon thereafter, Carl enrolled into the University of Lund to study Botany. Following these studies, Linnaeus wrote a book detailing plant reproduction. At the age of 25, Linnaeus undertook a six month expedition to Lapland to study the indigenous plants and animals in this artic region. Following this expedition, Linnaeus wrote the book, “Flora Lapponica,” which identified nearly 100 new species of plants. It was during these travels that Linnaeus first began formulating ways to name and classify the plants that he identified and discovered. At the age of 28, Linnaeus immigrated to Holland where he studied and became a physician. It was in Holland that Linnaeus developed his first volume of plant classification known as “Systema Naturae.” Linnaeus returned to Sweden at 31 years of age to practice as a physician, marry, and raise a family. During this time, the Swedish Government commissioned him to continue his studies and classification system, develop botanical gardens, and establish groves of walnut trees to be used for gun stock for the Swedish military. Linnaeus undertook numerous trips around Europe to identify and classify many plants and animals, as well. In 1753, at the age of 46, Linnaeus published “Species Plantarum,” which is considered by many to be the fully developed system of modern day classification of plants and animals. Linnaeus wrote many more articles, identified and classified hundreds of plants and animals, and published numerous books over the next 20 years. Some of these volumes developed the ground work for modern ecological theory. Linnaeus also helped found the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, and was Rector at Uppsula University where many of his students went on to contribute to further the understanding of the natural world. Carl Linnaeus died at the age of 71 in 1778.

Carl Linnaeus was one of the most revered scholars of his day. Not only did he formulate the plant and animal classification system that we use today, but he also discovered and classified hundreds of species of plants and animals, as well. Some scholars called Linnaeus the “Pliny of the North” for his many contributions to science.

Article by FCFCDB member