"Pehr was just 27 years old when he died of malaria on the banks of the Caroní River at a Mission outpost on this day in 1756. He was buried beneath an orange tree."
February 22, 1756
Today is the anniversary of the death of the handsome and tall Swedish botanist - and a favorite student of Carl Linnaeus known as “the Vulture” - Pehr Loefling.
Pehr met Carl at the University of Uppsala, where Carl was his professor. Early on, Carl dubbed Pehr his "most beloved pupil," he even gave Pehr a nickname: the Vulture. Carl came up with the moniker after observing that Pehr had an intuitive way of finding plants and observing the most minute details of plant specimens.
When Pehr wrote his dissertation “On the Buds of Trees,” his keen observation skills were fully displayed. Pehr's paper featured detailed descriptions of plants in bud in the offseason instead of in full flower during the summer. This unique perspective enabled people to identify many species in leafless wintertime - an activity that confounds folks even today.
While he pursued his studies in Uppsala, Pehr began tutoring Carl's son and eventually moved in with the Linnaeus family.
After graduating, Pehr received an opportunity in Madrid at the Botanic Garden courtesy of Carl's connections. There, Pehr learned Spanish and befriended many Spanish botanists who called him Pedro.
After collecting over 1,400 specimens in Spain for two years, Pehr was offered a paid position on the Royal Botanical Expedition to South America. His mission was to study cinnamon to cultivate a new variety that was supposed to outperform standard cinnamon plants.
By 1754, Pehr was botanizing in Venezuela with a small team that included two doctors and two artists. The conditions were harsh, and the terrain was treacherous.
Pehr was just 27 years old when he died of malaria on the banks of the Caroní River at a Mission outpost on this day in 1756. He was buried beneath an orange tree.
By the end of the year, over half of the expedition’s men would be dead from disease compounded by hunger and fatigue.
When Linnaeus shared the news about Pehr's death with a friend, he wrote,
The great Vulture is dead.