The Father of Taxonomy
It's the birthday of Carl Linnaeus born on this day in 1707.
It is said he liked flowers as a young child, and whenever he was upset, he was given a flower to soothe him.
On May 1st, 1753, the publication of his masterpiece Species Plantarumchanged plant taxonomy forever.
It gave Linnaeus the moniker Father of Taxonomy; his naming system is called binomial nomenclature. Binomial means "two names" which in the naming game includes the plant's genus (which is capitalized or could be abbreviated by its first letter) and species or specific epithet (which is all lowercase and can be abbreviated sp.) If you have trouble remembering taxonomy, I like to think of it as the given name and surname of a person, but in reverse order.
The names that Linnaeus assigned live on unchanged and are distinguished by an “L.” after their name. And, it was Linnaeus himself who said:
“God created, Linnaeus ordered.”
There are so many stories about Linnaeus, but I thought I'd share a few of the more obscure stories about him and his work.
First, Linnaeus' friend Anders Celsius created the Centigrade thermometer in 1742, with water boiling at 0 degrees and freezing at 100. Three years later, it was Linnaeus who reversed the scale - sharing it in an article with the Botanical Garden at Uppsala University.
Second, there is a memorable story about the genus Commelina, the genus for the Asiatic Dayflower. Linnaeus named the genus after the three Commelin brothers, two of whom achieved greatness in botany & one who died young before achieving anything in life.
“Commelina has 3 petals, two of which are showy where the third is not conspicuous”
Next time you see the Commelina communis or Asiatic Dayflower (with two large blue petals & one very small white petal), you can think of the Commelins and Linnaeus' kind memorialization of the three brothers.
Another fun story about Linnaeus involved a trip he took to Lapland, where he was given a raccoon named Sjupp. Linnaeus realized that he could use his new naming system to name animals as well as plants. He first classified raccoons as Ursus lotor, the washing bear. Linnaeus kept Sjupp (who he described as 'tremendously stubborn') at the botanical garden of Uppsala. Fascinated by Sjupp's interactions with his habitat, Linnaeus observed that his students would often find themselves pestered relentlessly by Sjupp if they carried food like raisins or nuts in their pockets.
Linnaeus found himself in a number of predicaments. Once, he was forced to leave Hamburg after he revealed that the mayor's prized "stuffed seven-headed hydra" was just a bunch of snake carcasses sewn to a weasel carcass. When Linnaeus published his taxonomy, he actually included a section for Animalia Paradoxa to debunk the existence of the fantastic like unicorns, dragons, hydras, and manticores.
The national flower of Sweden is the Linnaea (Linn-ee-ah) Borealis or the Twinflower; After naming over 8,000 plants, the Twin Flower was the plant to which Linnaeus gave his name. It was his favorite plant. Linnaea is the genus. Borealis is the species, and it references where it is found (Borealis means northern). As for the story of how he named it after himself, he was actually persuaded to do so by a Dutch botanist, his great friend, Jan Frederik Gronovius Twinflower belongs to the honeysuckle family. It's a sweet tiny plant, offering a faint scent of vanilla.
One side note worth mentioning is how Linnaeus' collection ended up leaving Sweden and finding a home in London:
When Linnaeus died in 1778, his belongings were sold. Joseph Banks, the president of the Linnean Society, acted quickly, buying everything of horticultural value on behalf of the society. Linnaeus' notebooks and specimens were on a ship bound for England. When the king of Sweden realized Linnaeus' legacy was no longer in Sweden, he sent a fast navy ship in pursuit; but it was too late. Banks precious cargo made it back to London first. Thus, Linnaeus’s collection is in London at the Linnaeus Society's Burlington House.