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Carl Linnaeus : Biology's Unlikely  Revolutionary

It's not often the ideas of an obscure Swedish Botanist turns the World of Science upside down, but with his subtle-yet-fundamental alterations to plant classification, Carl Linnaeus did exactly that. In the process, he became one of biology's four best known geniuses...and created a framework that underpins all of the scientific names for living organisms.  In so doing, he created a systems that supported the work of later biologists, from Gregor Mendel, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace to the thousands of scientists working on living organisms today. Not convinced? Read more about Carl Linnaeus below and make up your own mind...

Carl Linnaeus a.k.a. Carl von Linne digital collage image by V.Neblik

Carl Linnaeus (also known as Carl von Linné): botanist, founding father of taxonomy and inventor of the binomial classification system.

(Image =original digital collage by V. Neblik for The Greatest Minds (c) 2018, This collage incorporates mixed original, public domain and copyright-expired material. No copyright claims are made on the original copyright-lapsed or public domain components of this collage. Original Linnaeus portrait by Alexander Roslin). Special thanks to OpenClipArt.Org


Born: 23rd May 1707

Died: 10th January 1778



     Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus, is often called the Father of Taxonomy. His system for naming, ranking, and classifying organisms is still in wide use today (with many changes). His ideas on classification have influenced generations of biologists during and after his own lifetime, even those opposed to the philosophical and theological roots of his work. Carl Linnaeus is famous for his work in Taxonomy, the science of identifying, naming and classifying organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, etc.). He formalized the modern system of naming organisms called binomial nomenclature.

Early and Later Life.

              Linnaeus was born in 1707, the eldest of five children, in a place called Råshult, in Sweden. His father, Nils, was a minister and keen gardener; he would often take his young son Carl into the garden with him and teach him about botany (the study of plants). By the age of five, Carl had his own garden, which gave him a great thirst for learning about plants and how they function and grow.

              Nils taught Carl that every plant had a name. At the time, plant names (which were in Latin, and still are to this day) were very long and descriptive, and difficult to remember. Nevertheless, Carl dedicated himself to learning as many as he could. In fact, at school he was often more interested in memorizing plant names than in his school lessons. Due to his interest in plants and science, Carl was encouraged by his tutor, Johan Stensson Rothman (1684–1763), to study medicine.

              In 1728, after spending a year studying medicine at the University of Lund, Carl Linnaeus transferred to Uppsala University, in the hope that the course would be better. He studied the use of plants, minerals and animals in medicine. It was here that he came to the attention of Olof Celsius (1670–1756) a theologian, professor of religious studies and naturalist. Celsius, who was uncle to Anders Celsius (the inventor of the Celsius thermometer), found Linnaeus studying in the university botanic garden—and was very surprised to find that the young man knew the names of all the surrounding plants. Linnaeus had very little money and Celsius offered him a place to live while at university and allowed him to use his library. During this time, Linnaeus wrote an essay on the classification of plants based on their sexual parts and one professor, Olof Rudbeck (1660-1740), was so impressed that he asked Linnaeus to become a lecturer in botany.

The Binomial System.

       Carl Linnaeus is most famous for creating a system of naming plants and animals—a system we still use today. This system is known as the binomial system, whereby each species of plant and animal is given a genus name followed by a specific name (species), with both names being in Latin. For example, humans are Homo sapiens. Homo is the genus that includes modern humans and closely-related species like Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals). Although this system had been "partially developed" by Swiss biologists Johann (Jean) Caspar Bauhin and his brother Gaspard Bauhin some time earlier, the binomial system was not in widespread use, until Linnaeus employed it systematically throughout his book "Systema Naturae" . In fact, Linnaeus produced some 12 editions of his book "Systema Naturae" over the course of his life, with each edition representing an expansion and refinement of his earlier work. The 10th Edition was considered to be the most important for the ideas it advanced. After his death, further editions were produced. Linnaeus named over 12,000 species of plants and animals, although some have had to be renamed because science understands them better now. Linnaeus actually published many books using his new system of classification, but his two most famous works are, "Species Plantarum" (1st edition, 1753) and "Systema Naturae" (10th edition, 1758), which are still used by scientists as the basis for naming plants and animals. Aa its name suggests, Species Plantarum was concerned with using the binomial system to the naming of plants. It has been suggested (see footnote 1, below)  that a major factor in Linnaeus's success and impact was his ability to attract capable and enthusiastic students to work with him, because these students were duly dispatched to collect samples internationally for him and therefore expand both the scope and range of samples to which he had access for his magna opera.


Later life and legacy.

           Linnaeus had seven children with his wife, Sara Elisabeth, but only five survived to adulthood. In the late 1750s he purchased the farms of Hammarby, Sävja, and Edeby outside Uppsala, which allowed him and his family to spend their summers in the country. In 1761 the by now notable botanist was granted a Swedish patent of nobility, from which time he was known as Carl von Linné. After nearly one-third of Uppsala was destroyed by fire in 1766, he established a museum made of stone for his collections on a hill behind Hammarby. A stroke in 1774 left Linnaeus greatly weakened, and he died in 1778. Linnaeus’s only son, Carl, became his successor and the custodian of his collections. However, Carl died within a few years, and Sara Elisabeth sold Linnaeus’s collections and manuscripts to Sir James Edward Smith, founder of the Linnean Society of London.


1. Source: Sörlin, Sverker; Fagerstedt, Otto (2004). Linné och hans apostlar [Linnaeus and his apostles] (in Swedish). Örebro, Sweden: Natur & Kultur/Fakta. ISBN 978-91-27-35590-3. cited by

2. This Profile was compiled to exclusive commission for by an anonymous guest writer. (c) The Greatest Minds 2018.

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