Carl Linnaeus the father of botany?

I have to admit I had not heard of Carl Linnaeus until I attended a talk about a garden that had been dedicated to him. The other gardeners seemed shocked I had not heard of the ‘Father of botany’.

. . . This compulsive organizer, who imagined that he was replicating on paper God’s order in nature, gave eighteenth-century botanists overwhelmed by the new stream of foreign plants the enduring principal of sexuality as basis for classification. Artificial as he conceded this was, he never found a methodus naturalis to replace it. Linnaeus also worked out fixed rules for the lower systematic categories of genera and species, with each species distinguished from the others by a 12-word differentia specifica of standard morphological terms. As well, he devised the binomial nomenclature, one for the genus and one for the species, that we still use to keep all this precision manageable. Presciently, he hinted occasionally at a pre-Darwinian model of diversity through evolution. Linnaeus was less convincing as an animal taxonomist, but he was also less enthusiastic. He was the first at least to identify the whale as a mammal. His arrangement of the mineral kingdom had very little influence, but he did describe competently a number of fossils, correctly placing trilobites among the arthropods. He put his hand to disease classification too. In medicine he figures with Francois Boissier de Sauvages, with whom he maintained a lively correspondence, as a co-founder of systematic nosology. . .

His father was a botanist and gardener and Carl learned to love the garden growing up. He was fanatical about organizing stuff so he naturally fell to organizing plants. Trained as a doctor he understood some science and applied it to his organization of plants. He published several extensive volumes on plants and how to categorize them in a scientific matter. Most of the classifications we use today are derived from his studies.

You can also listen to this Scientific American Podcast What’s in a Latin Name: The Legacy of Linnaeus which was very good.

More information:
The Linnean Society of London

2 thoughts on “Carl Linnaeus the father of botany?

  1. OMG. There is at least one blogger I know of who might have a heart attack at the thought of someone not having heard of Linnaeus. Ha. I got sick of the name from reading this guy’s posts, though his enthusiasm was quite genuine.

  2. LOL – I am a physics person and we are convinced there is but one true science and all the rest are but pretenders to the throne.

    So I haven’t done a lot of research outside the ‘hard’ science.


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