Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote,
"But these young scholars... Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not, And all their botany is Latin names."
There is more to gardening than nomenclature, and more than nomenclature, there's actually growing and knowing plants.
#OTD 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 Plantarum changed 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.
The Swedish author August Strindberg said, “Linnaeus was, in reality, a poet who happened to become a naturalist.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge noted the symmetry in taxonomy and poetry, saying taxonomy was “the best words in the best order.”
Linnaeus wrote most of his prose and poetry in Swedish. Beautiful to Swedish ears, much of his work outside of taxonomy is still unknown to the rest of the world.
Linnaeus was a deeply religious man, and he often used parallelism in his writing, a method used often in the bible. The son of a clergyman, Linnaeus, no doubt grew up hearing the scriptures, which clearly influenced his writing as an adult.
Here's a little text from Linnaeus on the difference between humans and various animals. You'll hear his use of parallelism clearly:
"We have not the strength of the elephant, but our intelligence has tamed the strongest of them.
We have not the speed of the hare, but our genius has learned to capture the speediest of them.
We have not front feet to dig through earth like the mole, but our minds have devised ways to bore through hard bedrock. [...]"
This is a nice little resource on Linnaeus - published in 1983. You can get used copies on Amazon with the link above for under $7.
It includes the following lengthy essays: The two faces of Linnaeus, pp. 1–62; Linnaeus, the botanist, pp. 63–109; Linnaeus as a geologist, pp. 110–155; Homo sapiens. Linnaeus’ classification of man, pp. 156–194.
Today's Garden Chore: Plant Cannas
Once the danger of frost has passed, you can start to plant rhizomes like cannas.
If this is your first time trying them, rhizomes should be placed horizontally in the soil, 4 to 6 inches deep, and spaced 1 to 2 feet apart.
Next year, try getting them started early in pots or in a greenhouse about a month before they can be placed outside in warmer temps.
Cannas are hungry eaters; they are happy to be fertilized monthly.
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
When Linnaeus was 25 years old, he set out to explore the Lapland.
He spent nearly six months there, and he came back with tales of a Scandinavia few people knew existed.
The expedition had been trying: He had suffered hunger, mosquitoes, freezing temperatures, and had almost died from a rockslide and a gunshot.
Through it all, Linnaeus fell in love with the Lapland; He even brought home a traditional costume complete with a magical drum as a souvenir from his adventure.
Five years later, an obscure German painter named Martin Hoffman painted Linnaeus' portrait.
And, guess what did he choose to wear for the sitting?
His Lapland costume, of course.
In Hoffman's Linnaeus, a 30-year-old Linnaeus is seen wearing boots made of reindeer skin. He's also wearing an early version of a toolbelt. Suspended from it is the magical drum, a needle to make nets, a snuffbox, a cartridge-box, and a knife. Linnaeus is wearing traditional Laplander's gloves, and in his right hand, he holds his favorite plant: the Twinflower, Linnaea borealis.
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