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The introductory article Plant People summarizes the selection of plant people, briefly placing them within a global and plant science context. By reading this article first you will set the scene for the more detailed individual accounts. For a more extended discussion of changes in the form and context of plant study over time see the history of plant science. See also Georgian gardens and Phases of plant introduction. More historical background is given in the article on the Enlightenment.

Linnaeus & Solander

Historical context

The Kingdom of Sweden had emerged as a major European power in the 17th century during the Central European Thirty Years War[28] (1618–1648) when it occupied parts of today’s Russia, Poland and the Baltic to become the third largest country in Europe after Russia and Spain. Through these years Sweden was a leading Protestant nation, but its ascendancy drew to a close in 1721 when its territories were annexed during the Great Northern War (1700–1721), when it succumbed to a coalition of Russia, Denmark, Norway, Saxony, Poland, Lithuania, Hanover and Britain. Linnaeus was just 14 at the time.

Linnaeus’s geographic separation from Australia, and his disappointment at never seeing any of the botanical specimens collected at Botany Bay by Banks and Solander on Cook’s first global circumnavigation in the Endeavour, does nothing to detract from the influence Linnaeus has had on Australian and global plant science and history. Linnaeus was in later years sadly neglected by both Banks and Solander, both of whom gained creditability through Linnaeus’s reputation. Indeed, Linnaeus had even suggested calling the newly located southern continent Banksia to commemorate the botanical work done there by Banks and Linnaeus’s favourite ‘apostle’ Daniel Solander who he had expected would marry his daughter.[1]

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)


A single figure dominates natural history and botanical science in the period just preceding Australian settlement . . . Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus, sometimes called Carl von Linné after his ennoblement in 1761. He was undoubtedly the Enlightenment’s most illustrious naturalist (he coined the name Homo sapiens, aligning humans with their primate relatives) and was, in many ways, the starting point for the biological revolution that has persisted to this day.

Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) (1718-1793)

Painted by Alexander Roslin in 1775 when Linnaeus was aged 68

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The man

In contrast to many of the urbane gentlemen scientists of his day Linnaeus was a man of humble origins, although he was not so humble in his manner. One of his visitors described him as follows:

a somewhat aged man, not tall, with dusty shoes and stockings, markedly unshaven and dressed in an old green coat [He was a ] ‘slovenly, argumentative little man who even admonished the queen herself … [he had] … a surly self-confidence … a provincial who spoke only vernacular south Swedish and lacked culture’.[2]

There are many records of both his arrogance and prodigious talent:

At times, Linnaeus thought of himself as the second Adam. ‘Deus creavit, Linnaeus disposuit’, he liked to say — God created, Linnaeus organized. The frontispiece of his Systema Naturae, his magnum opus, depicts Linnaeus in the garden of Eden, evidently applying Linnaean names to freshly minted creatures. First published in 1735 as an 11-page tract, Systema Naturae was Linnaeus’s tabulation of the three recognized realms of nature: animals, plants and minerals. He kept adding to it throughout his life, and when the 13th edition was published in 1770, eight years before his death, it had grown to 3,000 pages. It was the last species omnibus ever attempted by one person. Such was the proliferation of scientific discovery after Linnaeus (in part because his classification system was so comprehensive and easy to use) that no one individual could ever again hope to take nature’s measure[29]

In spite of his many foibles Linnaeus was extremely hard-working and influential. He became Professor of Botany at the University of Uppsala (est. 1477) in 1741 and, appropriately, he lived in a house in the corner of the city’s botanic gardens where he had converted a neglected collection of plants into a rectilinear grid of garden beds which demonstrated, on the ground, the 24 classes he had created for the world’s plant species. On Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer, starting at 7 am, he would lead his ‘army of botanists’ to scour the surrounding land for animals and plants which would be brought to him for classification. Kettle drums, French horns and banners added sound and colour to the occasion.

By 1758 he was married with five children and live on a country estate at Hammarby near Uppsala (about 65 km north of Stockholm) when he was not occupied at the University.[3]

Linnaeus was renowned for being on occasion as obsequiously ingratiating while at others he was breathtakingly arrogant and egotistical. He also had a reputation for not responding in kind to requests for plants, these factors possibly accounting for the rather distant stance taken to him by Banks and Solander.

Historian Andrea Wulf notes how in his university lectures Linnaeus would speak of himself in the third person recounting his many achievements to his students with instructions that in future they should pass on this information to his biographers.[4] He insisted that his tomb be inscribed Princeps Botanorum (First among botanists). His students had always called him the ‘Prince of Flowers’.

Early life

Although he was interested in botany from an early age the young Linnaeus was encouraged to continue his education, enrolling in the University of Lund in 1727. He was essentially self-taught, lodging with Stobaeus, a physician and naturalist who allowed hime to use the library and teaching him the art of preserving museum specimens. However, finding his brief time at the University of Lund unsatisfactory he transferred to the medical school at Uppsala in 1728 when he was 21 and here he assisted the Dean, Professor of Theology Celsius, to produce the two-volume Hierobotanicon, an account of the plants of the bible, eventually published in 1745 and 1747.[5] As a Lutheran he firmly believed in natural theology (he was expected to follow his father as a Lutheran minister) – that the pattern and structure he was creating in his classifications was simply the revelation of the work of nature’s divine creator, and that divinely created species were unchanging.[6]

Under the influence of Sébastien Vaillant’s (1669–1722) Sermo Linnaeus wrote Praeludia Sponsalia Plantarum. Vaillant was a French botanist from the Jardin des Plantes and taught by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort who had a mafor infuence on the developing Linnaeus. When in 1730 Celsius showed Linnaeus’s work to the aged Professor of Botany Olof Rudbeck (1660–1740), Rudbeck immediately made him an assistant – to lecture, organise excursions, and rejuvenate the botanical garden. Olof’s father Olaus Rudbeck (1630-1702), also Professor of Botany, had established the Uppsala botanical garden as the first botanical garden in Sweden. The young and enthusiastic Linnaeus attracted about 400 students to classes that formerly numbered 70 or 80.

From 1728 to 1731 Linnaeus was a guide in the Uppsala Botanic garden[7] and at this time it seems he started classifying plants by the number and arrangement of the pistils and stamens , his ‘sexual system’ which he persisted with all his life. It was some time later, in 1741, that he was appointed Professor of Botany at Uppsala with the responsibility for the botanic gardens being one of his duties.

Lapland & Europe

In 1732, sponsored by the Swedish Academy of Science he undertook an expedition to Lapland. Encouraged to graduate in medicine at a foreign university, this was followed in 1735 by a tour of Europe including Luebeck, Hamburg and Amsterdam where he graduated M.D. at Harderwijk and visited Haarlem and, at Leiden, meeting Grunovius and the most famous professor of medicine in Europe, Herman Boerhaave, who introduced him to Burman at Amsterdam. He also made contact with the great publishing houses of Holland. In 1736 he visited England to instruct botanists and horticulturists in his new system. His botanical skill at plant identification was self-evident and his horticultural skills became apparent when, in Holland, he was able to induce a banana to flower, an achievement he later repeated in Sweden.

By the late 1740s he was renowned in Sweden having increased the number of plants in the gardens from 300 to 3000. His fame had also spread internationally as he had built up his collection by pestering botanists and gardeners throughout Europe for seed, cuttings and plants, from what he called his ‘Commonwealth of Botany’.[8] Like all scientists of the day he maintained a lively correspondence with his peers and knew who was who when it came to collecting his treasures. American plants, for example, were all the rage at the time and he had been sent many plants first by a London nurseryman Peter Collinson but eventually directly from their major source, John Bartram in ?Pennsylvania. Unfortunately he had developed a reputation for not reciprocating the generosity of his peers ‘Dr Linnaeus Receives all and Returns Nothing’[9] although these peers would also have known of his ambition to list and publish all the plants in the world in his Species Plantarum.

1735-1738 European tour visiting Germany, Holland, England & France

In Holland he visited the Amsterdam Botanic Garden where he met Johannes Burmann (1707-1780) who was a brilliant botanist one year older than Linnaeus. Burman was appointed Professor of Botany and Director of the Amsterdam Botanic Garden at the age of 21 working with the herbarium of the famous Paul Hermann which hd been accumulated in the 1670s. He also met Alfred Seba, a world-renowned apothecary who had travelled to both the East and West Indies accumulating many curios for his cabinet. Then at Leiden he showed Gronovius his Systema Naturae manuscript and had several meetings with Boerhaave, Europe’s achnowledged pre-eminent physician, sometimes referred to as Hippocrates Redivivius (Hippocrates Reborn).

Hortus Cliffortianus & Hartekamp

Between 1735 and 1736 Linnaeus worked with the artist Geog Dionysius Ehret on Hortus Cliffortianus, a catalogue of the botanical collections of George Clifford. Clifford, was a wealthy Amsterdam banker and governor of the Dutch East India Company, also a keen botanist with a large herbarium, garden, and glasshouses. Clifford employed Linnaeus as his physician and superintendent of his garden at Hartekamp and to provide a catalogue of his plant collection for 1000 florins a year plus board and lodging. Linnaeus was entranced by the hothouses, one with plants from southern Europe, another those from Asia like mangosteens, coconuts and cloves, a third for plants from Africa and the fourth for plants from the New World including the calabash, bananas, camphor trees, passion flowers and cacti.

In the spring of 1736 Clifford sponsored Linnaeus’s visit to England. While in England he visited not only Philip Miller and Peter Collinson but also John Martyn, Professor of Botany at Cambridge whose Historia Plantarum Rariorum (1728-1736) was the first book illustrated in mezzotint colour from a single plate. At Oxford he met Dillenius who also gave him live plants for Clifford’s garden. On his list of places to visit in England there was the Oxford Botanic Garden, founded in 1621 and, like the later Chelsea garden in London, a physic garden used for education in medicinal plants. Botanist William Sherard had taken over the gardens from its first curator Bobart and in 1732 William had brought the German Botanist Johann Dillenius to England. Dillenius produced an illustrated account (Hortus Elthamensis, 1732) of the extensive collection of exotic plants held by his brother James at his garden in Eltham, Kent. When William died he passed on to the University of Oxford his books, plants and what was possibly the finest herbarium in Europe at the time.[27] Then, at William’s request, Dillenius was appointed the first of Oxford’s Sherardian Professor of Botany. Linnaeus spent a month with Dillenius when visiting England in 1736. Both Dillenius at Oxford and Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden were not impressed at first but wee eventually won over. At the Chelsea Physic Garden he had become impatient when the equally temperamental Miller used long phrase names when talking about the plants instead of ther Linnaean binomials. Even so, he was given a parcel of live plants to take back to Clifford’s summer estate at Hartekamp in Holland.

On his return he completed the Hortus cliffortianus, Genera Plantarum (1737), and Critica Botanica (dedicated to Dillenius).

In Paris he met the three de Jussieu brothers Anton, Bernard and Joseph seeing Versailles and Saint-Germain and many new books that, when added to his bibliography, nearly doubled the size of his Bibliotheca Botanica. He also met the Peintres du Roi (Court Flower Painters) Claude Aubriet and Medelaine Basseporte.

Major works

By about 1730 the young Swede Linnaeus was planning the reformation of botany, his theoretical foundations for the subject being published as Fundamenta Botanica (1736) and Critica Botanica (1737) which later matured into Philosophia Botanica (1751) which reprinted 10 times in Latin and was translated into English, Dutch, Spanish, German, French and Russian. The practical application of his ideas was his highly esteemed Genera Plantarum (1737), the 12 editions of his Systema Naturae which consisted of 11 pages in the first edition of 1735 expanding to 1,400 pages in 1768, and his global flora, the Species Plantarum of 1753.

Linnaeus was undeniably the great biological encyclopaedist of the day, although there were other contenders, but his grasp of the content of the organic world indicates the knowledge of his day. At that time science recognized only about 10,000 species of organisms (about 6,000 plants and 4,236 animals). [10] Even in 1753 he believed that the total number of plant species in the world would hardly reach 10,000 and in his whole career he assembled the names of 7,700 species of flowering plants.[10] In 1735 he estimated that all the animal and plant species on Earth numbered about 40,000.[11]

Keen to accumulate as many plants as possible he would send his students (who he termed his ‘apostles’) around the world to bring back specimens, his favourite being Daniel Solander who he had hoped would marry his daughter, but who was ‘lost’ to the English when joining Banks on the Endeavour.

Systema naturae (1735)

His major contribution to natural history was Systema Naturae (12 editions published between 1735 and 1768), the full title in translation being System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters, differences, synonyms, places. In this book Linnaeus presented a hierarchical classification of the natural world, dividing it into the animal kingdom (Regnum animale), the plant kingdom (Regnum vegetabile) and the mineral kingdom (Regnum lapideum), the 10th edition being the starting point for zoological nomenclature. Here, for the first time was an efficient means of cataloguing the world’s organisms and, most importantly, one that was accepted by his peers.

The first 12-page edition of Systema Naturae was printed in 1735 but by the time of the 10th edition in 1758 it ran into many volumes that included 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants. Erasmus Darwin (Charles’s grandfather) wrote an English translation of Systema Naturae between 1783 and 1785 and this helped promote both botany and Linnaean ideas at this time: the book was dedicated to Banks who had both supported him in the project and assisted him with the botany and as a demonstration of his dedication to the system Erasmus had planted out his picturesque garden outside Lichfield according to the Linnaean system.[12]

Species Plantarum (1753)

Botany was always his first interest and Species Plantarum (1753) was a compendium of all the plants known to him at the time of publication, remaining the starting point for plant nomenclature, meaning that the first names to be considered validly published in botany were those listed in this book and his Genera Plantarum ed. 5 (1753). These publications demonstrate perfectly the encyclopaedic and systematizing effort of the 18th century. Interestingly rural Swedes of his day used single-word names but Carl’s father had created the family name Linnaeus after the common name of the Linden tree.

Species Plantarum contained descriptions of almost 6,000 species in 1,098 genera and it is a locus classicus for botanists as it represents the starting point for botanical names. When Linnaeus died the task of cataloging the known flora was taken up by Carl Willdenow who published a greatly expanded version between 1797 and 1830 as a posthumous’ Fourth Edition’ in six volumes made up of 13 parts.

When Linnaeus published his Species Plantarum in 1753 it was momentous day for botany, not only because it was the most comprehensive list of plants yet known, but also because it introduced a simplified method of presenting plant names explaining the logic of the new system in a clear and precise way. Instead of the lengthy descriptions (phrase names) that were the generally accepted method of the time, he introduced a simple two-word name or ‘binomial’, consisting of the genus and species, in general similar to the way we use common names and our own names (Mannah Gum, Charles Darwin). This greatly simplified the business of listing plants and in this book he neatly presented the 7,700 plant names that effectively summarized both his twenty years of work and the totality of plants known to Europeans at that time. But his new naming convention that would not be easily accepted. Perhaps the greatest opponent of Linnaeus’s system was Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. Miller also produced a vast compendium of garden plants that was known as Miller’s Dictionary, full of awkward phrase names: it was extremely unwieldy but the influential Miller was not going to give in to Linnaeus without a fight. He was however becoming known as an aging and cantankerous old codger, bitterly opposing the new binomial system which had entailed renaming the entire natural world. It was becoming clear that his talents lay more in horticulture than botany. Linnaeus was, of course, accused of extreme vanity – and with some justification. ‘Self-praise smells bad, in fact it stinks’ he said. But he is also recorded as claiming that ‘I brought the natural sciences to their highest peak’ . . . Species Plantarum was ‘the greatest work in science’ . . . and that his work consisted of ‘masterpieces’ and ‘jewels’.[17]

To overcome any resistance to his sexual system of plant classification system and binomial nomenclature Linnaeus knew he had to conquer the ascendant Britain where plant collecting was now becoming a mania, its landscaping placing the country at the height of European fashion for the first time. To win over the British he decided to send his favourite apostle, Daniel Solander who had impressed him with his rapid progress and the way he had conducted himself on a collecting trip to Lapland in 1753-55. Solander had become a close friend of the Linnaeus family there even being an expectation that he would return to marry Linnaeus’s eldest daughter Lisa Stina and become his successor. Unlike the bumptious Linnaeus Solander was personable and erudite but also modest, gentle and amusing company.

The sexual system

One of Linnaeus’s major achievements was his classification system for plants known as the ‘sexual system’ (building on that of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort) which grouped plants according to their numbers of stamens and pistils. Plant sexuality had only just been accepted, the most influential taxonomic botanist preceding and strongly influencing Linnaeus, Joseph Tournefort, regarding stamens as excretory organs. It was indeed regarded as indecent by many.

It took the bawdy public lectures of Sébastien Vaillant, Plant Demonstrator at the Jardin du Roi in 1717 (published in 1718 as Sermo de Structura Florum) to stir students of the Jardin des Plantes and indeed the botanical world into an acknowledgement of the role of stamen and pistil, even though in 1694 the German Jacob Camerarius, Director of the botanical gardens at Tübingen, had clinched the matter in a letter to a friend in 1694 when he wrote that from his experiments it had become evident that ‘no ovules of plants could ever develop into seeds from the female style and ovary without first being prepared by the pollen from the stamens, the male sexual organs of the plant

There were a few botanical detractors who resisted his ‘artificial’ sexual classification system notably the de Jussieu’s of Paris who steadfastly pursued a natural system based on multiple characters of resemblance and difference a system that, in the long term, would hold sway.

Linnaeus himself acknowledged that his ideal classification system would be a natural one system, rather than a practical ‘artificial’ system (such as one based simply on flower colour) but he did not believe this would be practical in his lifetime. Though a few German botanists and the French at the Jardin du Roi continued to use their natural system, elsewhere the simplicity and convenience of Linnaeus’s system won through even though, as he had predicted, the natural system would eventually hold sway beginning with the publication of Jussieu’s classification in 1789. Even the botanic garden at Montpellier had been replanted by Linnaean taxonomist Antoine Gouan to demonstrate the sexual system, producing in 1762 the first major French publication that was fully Linnaean in method and nomenclature, Hortus regius monspeliensis.[13]

Binomial nomenclature

Perhaps Linnaeus is best known for the system of binomial nomenclature. Until 1753 plant names consisted of short Latin descriptive phrases called polynomials. These phrases had two functions: firstly as a simple designation (label or name) and secondly, as a way of distinguishing one plant from another (a diagnosis). Linnaeus’s associated with the generic name an additional single word, what he termed the nomen triviale to designate a species, what is now called the specific epithet.

Linnaeus did not invent the binomial system but he was the person who provided the theoretical framework that led to its universal acceptance. The two words, the generic name and specific epithet together make up the species name. Linnaeus’s major achievement was not binomial nomenclature itself, which had been used before (though not universally – it was, after all, the way most people were named), but the separation of the designatory and diagnostic functions of names. He did this by linking species names to descriptions and the concepts of other botanists as expressed in their literature — all set within a structural framework of carefully drafted rules.

British resistance

For his system to be internationally adopted it was crucial that it be accepted in England which was rapidly becoming the European horticultural hub. Copies of his Systema Naturae were sent to Philip Miller and Hans Sloane ahead of his visit in 1736 for which he had also acquired a letter of introduction from Herman Boerhave who corresponded with Sloane.[14] Linnaeus failed to convert the English plant community at that time and his comparison of the arrangement of stamens and pistils to assorted sexual arrangements between humans was regarded as poor taste.

For a time things just got worse. In 1758 the Vatican put his publications on its list of forbidden books.[16] He had not endeared himself to the people whose support he desperately needed. Wulf notes that in dictating his autobiography he described Species Plantarum as ‘the greatest work in science’ while simultaneously maintaining that ’self-praise smells bad, in fact stinks.’[15] By about 1750 he had decided to send his most gifted and favourite student to convert the English to his ‘system’. The student was Daniel Solander who, unlike Linnaeus, was affable and socially skilled who eventually left for England in 1760, was rapidly accepted by English society with the tide soon turning in Linnaeus’s favour. The future of ‘the system’ was assured when Miller finally, in 1768, capitulated, converting to Linnaeus’s binomial system in the 8th edition of his Dictionary – but the triumph cost Linnaeus his student who was successfully ‘poached’ by Banks who needed him as botanical assistant to himself as naturalist on Cooks first voyage in the Endeavour. Correspondence between Solander and Linnaeus ceased, and in spite of Linnaeus’s copious praise for both Banks and Solander and their work (Linnaeus suggested that New Holland be renamed Banksia) Linnaeus died without seeing any of the specimens brought back from Botany Bay in New Holland. All his natural history collections and massive library would eventually end up in England as well.

Species Plantarum provided a unified international system of biological nomenclature using two words. It provided a solution to the problem that names were different from country to country and even in the same country they confusingly consisted of a short phrase, Miller’s Dictionary, for example, listing all the names that had been given to a particular plant including the common names; even the Society of Gardeners had quickly given up on the horrendous task of creating order out of this chaos.

At the time of Linnaeus only about 10,000 species of organisms were recognised by science, about 6,000 species of plants and 4,236 species of animals. Even in 1753 he believed that the number of species of plants in the whole world would hardly reach 10,000; in his whole career he named about 7,700 species of flowering plants.[25 Stearn]

The Apostles

To assist him in the task of listing and describing all the plants in the world Linnaeus had assembled a group of students who he called his ‘apostles’, sending them around the world on collecting expeditions. It was a tradition envied and emulated by his European peers notably Thouin at the Jardin des Plantes and Banks at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (including many sent to New Holland during phase of British settlement), the addition of a naturalist to the crew being an enduring tradition that includes later naturalists like Darwin, Wallace, Huxley, and Hooker. Without naturalist Darwin on the Voyage of the Beagle and the parallel work of Wallace the theory of evolution might have looked very different. But adventure and glory were combined with extreme danger. When his first apostle, Christopher Tärnström (1703-1746) who was married with children, died of a tropical fever on Côn Sơn Island in 1746 Linnaeus from then on sent out only unmarried men. The tradition of commemorating colleagues in plant names meant that his apostles names are well known to botanists. Seven apostles never came home. The first apostle. Tärnström’s widow was angry with Linnaeus for making her children fatherless. After this incident, Linnaeus sent only unmarried men.

ChinaChristopher Tärnström1746
Olaf Torén1750
Pehr Osbeck1750-52
Carl Adler & East Indies1761
Anders Sparrman1765-67
North AmericaPehr Kalm1747–-51
South AmericaPehr Löfling1751-56
EgyptFredric Hasselquist1749-52
Pehr Forsskål1761-1763
Göran Rothman also Tunisia and Libya1773–-76
SpainPehr Löfling1751-56
RussiaJohan Peter Falck1768-74
South AfricaAnders Sparrman1771-–72 & 1775
Carl Thunberg, also Japan &c 1770-79
SenegalAnders Sparrman1787
GuineaAndreas Berlin1773
Sierra LeoneAdam Afzelius1792–-96
SurinamDaniel Rolander1775
OceaniaAnders Sparrman1772-75
AustraliaDaniel Solander1768-71
Iceland &cDaniel Solander1772
SpitsbergenAnton Martin1758

Linnaeus harnessed the youth and energy of his students as they sent back plants from overseas (as Alexander had sent back plants to the Lyceum botanic garden of Aristotle and Theophrastus in ancient Athens) thus extending his knowledge of the world flora. His international reputation assisted students in finding employment around the world. Perhaps his most illustrious pupil was Daniel Solander (1733-1782) who would circumnavigate the world with James Cook and Joseph Banks on HMS Endeavour. Anders Sparrman(1748-1820) would join Cook on a later trip to the Pacific. Jonas Dryander (1748-1810) arrived in London in 1777 becoming librarian of the Royal Society and Vice-President of the Linnean Society, also botanical librarian to Banks in 1782 after the unexpected death of Solander publishing Catalogus bibliothecae historico-naturalis Josephi Banks (1796-1800). He was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1784, the commemorative genus Dryandra was named in his honour by fellow Linnaean student Thunberg.

Apostle routes

Global Plant Collection – Tracks of the ‘apostles’ sent out by Linnaeaus
Following ancient tradition plant specimens and trophies were collected from around the world
This tradition was perpetuated by Joseph Banks from Kew Gardens in London, and Andre Thouin at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris who sent out many gardener-botanists from their institutions
Courtesy Penguin Books

Other students included: Peter Kalm (1715-1779) to North America; Fredrik Hasselquist (1722-1752) to Egypt, Syria, and Palestine; Peter Osbeck (1723-1805) and others sailing on East Indian merchant ships to China; Peter Forsskål (1736-1768) to Arabia on a Danish-German expedition; Pehr Loefling (1729-1756) (a favorite pupil) died in Venezuela. Perhaps the best kown was Karl Peter Thunberg ((1743-1828) who travelled widely including to Japan. Linnaeus not only received botanical specimens from his pupils but also, on occasion, published posthumously their travelogues – like Hasselquist’s Iter Palaestinum (1757) and Loefling’s Iter Hispanicum (1758). Yet others include: Anders Berlin (1746-1773), Adam Afzelius (1750-1837), Johan Gerard Konig (1728-1785), Lars Montin (1723-1785), Daniel Rolander (1725-1793), and Olaf Torén (d. 1753).

Linnaeus’s collections

Linnaeus’s original writings, manuscripts and library were of inestimable value to the biological world, not to mention his numerous ‘type’ specimens that fixed the names of so many living organisms.

Linnaeus, in his will, left instructions for the preservation of his natural history collections namelytwo herbaria in his museum, shell, insect, and mineral cabinets, and his library. Though he had left specific instructions that his son Carl should not have the specimens, when Linnaeus died in 1778 Carl did his best to ensure the deteriorating collections were maintained in good order, rejecting a ‘cruel’ offer of £1100-1200 from Joseph Banks. When Carl died unexpectedly in 1783 it was decided to dispose of the collection immediately and though it was keenly sought, Banks was approached. Unusually Banks was in difficult financial situation and suggested that the 24 year old James Smith make a successful bid of 1000 guineas and, to the dismay of Swedish naturalists, 26 massive chests were dispatched to London. They contained 19,000 pressed plants, 3,200 insects, 1,500shells, 700-800 pieces of coral, 2,500 mineral specimens, 3,000 books and all Linnaeus’s correspondence including some 3,000 letters and numerous manuscripts. Sith retained the collection becoming President of the Linnean Society when it was formed in 1788. When Smith died in 1814 the depleted collection (some sold, some rotted away) was sold to the Linnean Society by Smith’s widow for 3,000 guineas. Since 1857 they have been preserved in the Society’s rooms at Burlington House, London in a climate-controlled strongroom. The full story of the collections can be read in the standard two-volume biography of Linnaeus published in 1903 by T.M. Fries and translated into English in abbreviated form by Jackson [1] Fries, T.M. 1903. Linné: Lefnadsteckning. Stockholm. Jackson, B.D. 1923. Linnaeus, translated from the Swedish by Alan Blair, London.

Commentary & sustainability analysis

Linnaeus’s system of classification followed the principles of Aristotelian logic which was taught in secondary schools all over Europe. Arranging things into classes was called classification, and the subsequent segregation of these classes was then called logical division. The group to be divided was the ‘genus’ and the parts into which it was divided were the ‘species’. ‘Genus’ and ‘species’ were therefore terms from Aristotelian logic acquiring their specialized biological usage from Linnaeus’s predecessors, in particular John Ray and Tournefort. The binomial expresses both resemblance and difference at the same time: resemblance and relationship through the generic name — difference and distinctness through the specific epithet (by convention the second word in a binomial is the ‘specific epithet’, the combination of genus and species being called the ‘species name’).

The strength of the Linnaean system was that it provided a standardised, simple, logical and transparent method for classifying, naming, describing and cataloguing organisms that was desperately needed at this time when specimens were flooding into Europe from its colonies around the world. Its success depended on its general acceptance and its utility was (eventually) acknowledged and admired by virtually the entire scientific community with the exception of a few doggedly resistant French, German and English botanists and the stubborn Englishman Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Linnaeus had spent a month in England in 1736 trying to convince the skeptical English but without much success, although his abilities were evident to a range of scientists including Sir Hans Sloane and Johann Dillenius, not to mention the influential merchants Peter Collinson and John Ellis.[18] Joseph Banks was a keen supporter of his ‘system’.

Botanical historian Alan Morton, though praising Linnaeus’s contribution to classification and nomenclature, draws attention to its theoretical limitations:

‘Linnaeus was the master of the botany of his time, and his influence on the development of botanical science powerful and lasting … his work demonstrated the success of his improved methods of description, diagnosis and nomenclature, and made detailed systematic observation the guide and criterion in taxonomy. … In his theoretical ideas, on the contrary, Linnaeus was a man of the past who never escaped from the restricting circle of idealist-essentialist thought in which his early high school training had confined him. This was the background to the contradictory statements in the Philosophia, to his narrow view of botany, his blindness to the advances in plant physiology and anatomy, [and] his unquestioning acceptance of special creation’.

Though a deeply religious and conservative man, his scientific skepticism was prepared to challenge the wisdom of his day, the following quote hinting at the theory of evolution and some conflict between his scientific and religious beliefs, as he was convinced of the divine special creation of immutable species:

‘Yet man does recognise himself [as an animal]. But I ask you and the whole world for a generic differentia between man and ape which conforms to the principles of natural history, I certainly know of none… If I were to call man ape or vice versa, I should bring down all the theologians on my head. But perhaps I should still do it according to the rules of science’.

Linnaeus Letter to Johann Gmelon (14 Jan 1747), quoted in Mary Gribbin, Flower Hunters. 2008. p. 56

One can link Linnaeus through his student Solander and the Fosters to Humboldt and the founding of biogeography, through Solander, Robert Brown, and Humbolt to Darwin, Joseph Hooker, Huxley, Wallace, and the establishment of the theory of evolution.’


It may be wondered why a Swedish botanist should have such influence on the botanists of Europe and especially Britain; people like Banks and others,[20] but the simplicity and logic of Linnaeus’s taxonomic system opened up the world of natural history to everyone and heralded the later Victorian passion for nature. His arrogance no doubt added to his charisma, Jean Jacques Rousseau expressing his admiration by declaring ‘I know no greater man on earth’ which no doubt fanned the flames of Linnaeus’s conceit.

Daniel Solander (1733-1782)

We know Daniel Solander best as a botanical assistant to Joseph Banks the naturalist on the Endeavour when, on Cook’s epic voyage of discovery, the two men put in to Botany Bay while navigating the newly discovered east coast of New Holland. However, he performed a vital role in the horticulture and botany of Enlightenment England which is delightfully set out in Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners: Botany, empire and the Birth of an Obsession (2009). Through his association with Linnaeus and, later, Banks he is also a key role in the European phase of Australia’s association with European botany and horticulture.

Daniel Solander

Daniel Solander – 1733-1782

Sweden & Linnaeus

Solander, born in 1733, probably established his relationship with Linnaeus through his amateur naturalist father who had hosted Linnaeus during his famous Lapland trip. Daniel was moved to the University of Uppsala in July 1750 where he studied languages and humanities with his uncle who was Professor of Law. He was soon, however, persuaded by Linnaeus, the Professor of Botany to study natural history at which he excelled and was consequently entrusted with the editing of Linnaeus’s Elementa Botanica in 1756.[26] He spent much of his time with the Linnaeus family, falling in love with Linnaeus’s oldest daughter Lisa Stina. He was short, stout, jovial and mild-mannered.

It was the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus who would become the unchallenged founder of botanical nomenclature. Needless to say this honour was only bestowed grudgingly in his day; Linnaeus had to fight hard for respect among his European peers. There was no doubting his encyclopaedic knowledge and his phenomenal capacity to order large amounts of information, but he lacked social skills and in this sense he was his own worst enemy (see article).


Linnaeus had corresponded with merchant John Ellis in London, who supported Linnaeus’s ideas and was a friend of another key merchant plant-importer in London Peter Collinson: Linnaeus had written for Solander a letter of introduction to both of these men. Ellis was to be the main English contact and Solander was to offer instruction in the Linnaean system.

‘the English are all, more or less, gardeners’

(I have shamelessly plagiarised this wonderful quote from Andrea Wulf who notes on p. 136 that it occurs in the Preface (by Huth) to a German language 1750 edition of Miller’s Dictionary)

On 29 June 1760 (25 years after the visit by Linnaeus himself) Solander arrived in London to be amazed by the assortment of plants in the nurseries, especially the new hardy American plants, not to mention the range of horticultural books and periodicals on the bookshelves and the obsession, especially of the wealthy, with their gardens and landscapes which were the source of much competitive chatter. England was now the horticultural centre of Europe and American plants were all the rage, both the evergreens and the colourful autumn-foliage deciduous trees.

In 1690 there were 15 plant nurseries in the whole country but now London itself could boast 30. Linnaeus had visited London in 1736 but since that time the number of different plants had rocketed, and to keep in touch with this plant diversity nurserymen and those wishing to keep informed used either Miller’s Dictionary or Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum and Systema Naturae.[21]

Solander was offered lodgings at James Gordon’s nursery garden in Mile End which stocked many of the American plants that Linnaeus was after and before long his easy manner had endeared him to the gardening elite who were all keen to spend time with this personable student of the botanical master. He was enjoying himself, even sporting brightly coloured waistcoats.[22] While initially intending regular contact with Linnaeus it became obvious that he would remain in England for more than the few months he had initially intended and, knowing that this would disappoint his teacher, he let all communication with Uppsala lapse.

Two year after he had arrived in London it was clear that Linnaeus’s classification system had won the day although it was not until 1768 that Miller would use Linnaean binomials in the 8th edition of his Dictionary. But Linneaus was becoming desperate and managed to procure Solander an offer for the position of Professor of Botany at St Petersburg. Having now run out of money Solander accepted but when Linnaeus wrote to tell Solander that he had been appointed there was no letter in reply. Eventually Collinson wrote to tell Linnaeus something else had been offered.

It had been decided to offer Solander the task of classifying, according to the Linnaean system, the Hans Sloane collection of plants, insects and minerals that now made up the founding collection of the British Museum. Sloane had died in 1753 and his collections desperately needed sorting out. Again Collins wrote to Linnaeus on Solander’s behalf, this time rejecting the St Petersburg position. In March 1763 Solander was appointed Assistant Keeper at the British Museum becoming Assistant Librarian in 1765 and in the meantime elected a Fellow of the Royal society in 1764 while in 1765 also cataloguing the substantial Duchess of Portland natural history collection. Disappointed in 1764 by the news of the marriage of Linnaeus’s eldest daughter, Elisabeth Christina, he decided to remain a bachelor. He had disappointed Linnaeus by refusing the Chair of Botany position at St Petersburg and therefore precluding his possible succession to Linnaeus’s position.

Voyage to the South Seas with Cook and Banks on HMS Endeavour

While working at cataloguing the contents of the natural history collection at the British Museum Solander befriended Joseph Banks and for £400 p.a. in 1768 Solander was invited to assist Banks as naturalist specializing in botany on the Endeavour scientific voyage and was granted leave by the trustees of the museum: he would be the first Swede to circumnavigate the world (at Banks’s expense).

Soho Square

Returning to the social whirl in 1771 Solander was introduced to George III in August and with Banks received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law from the University of Oxford and accepting a position as Banks’s Secretary and Librarian at his London residence first in Chelsea then in 1777 at Soho Square where he lived with all the specimens from the famous voyage. In 1772, with Banks still smarting from a refusal of his proposal for a redesign of the Resolution in preparation for Cook’s second voyage, the pair headed off on their own expedition to the Isle of Wight, the Orkneys, Hebrides and Iceland followed in 1773 by a tour of Wales, a year in which he was appointed Keeper of Natural History at the British Museum.[23]

Apart from the cataloguing he did at the new British Museum Solander also catalogued Banks’s collections, produced a manuscript describing the Endeavour collections (plundered by later botanists) and also advised William Aiton on the classification of Kew’s plants, assisted with the revision of Alexander Russell’s Natural History of Aleppo (1756), organised the collection of the Duchess of Portland, wrote the descriptions for John Ellis’s Natural History of Zoophytes.[24] Though he, in effect wrote the first Floras of Australia and New Zealand, he forfeited this honour by leaving his work in manuscript form.

Like Banks he published little, his main work being the notes he had worked up from the Endeavour and Iceland voyages, but the frenetic social life took up a lot of his time.
An account of Solander’s life is given in Duyker (1998) and his collected correspondence translated in Duyker & Tingbrand (1995).

There is a Solander Garden at the Swedish embassy in Canberra.


This timeline adapted and extended from that given in Blunt.

1707 – Carl Linnaeus born 23 May at Råshult Sweden. Learns about botany from his father a curate of Stenbrohult
1716 – Attends Grammar School at Växjö but a poor student playing truant to botanize
1719 – Headmaster recommends Linnaeus to Dr Johan Rothman a master at Växjö Gymnasium (High School) who encourages Linnaeus to study medicine
1721 – Swedish kingdom formerly the third largest in Europe after Russia and Spain is annexed during the Great Northern War (1700–1721), succumbing to a coalition of Russia, Denmark, Norway, Saxony, Poland, Lithuania, Hanover and Britain. Linnaeus is 14
1724 – Enters High School and does well at Maths, Physics, and spoken Latin. Learns the Tournefort plant classification of his day and becomes familiar with Sébastien Vaillant’s (of the Jardin du Roi in Paris) essay on plant sexuality Sermo de Structura Florum (1717)
1727 – At age 20 matriculates in medicine at the University of Lund
1728 – Transfers to Uppsala University medical school, assists Dean to compile a two-volume Hierobotanicon, an account of the plants of the Bible – eventually published in 1745 and 1747; from 1728-1731 he acts as a botanical demonstrator at the Uppsala Botanic Garden
1729 – Befriends zoologist Peter Artedi; meets Olof Celsius, Prof. Theology and amateur botanist who offers Linnaeus lodgings and access to his garden and library; writes Praeludia Sponsaliarum Plantarum, a paper on the sexuality of plants which draws the attention of Prof. Olof Rudbeck founder of the Uppsala Botanic Garden
1730 – Applies for job as gardener at Uppsala Botanic Garden but Rudbeck offers him the position of Plant Demonstrator; questioning the plant classification of his day Linnaeus begins work on several publications; he lives in a house in the corner of the city’s botanic gardens which he converts from a neglected collection of plants into a rectilinear grid of garden beds demonstrating the 24 classes he had created for the world’s plant species publishing a catalogue of the plants Adonis Uplandicus for the benefit of his students. He sometimes draws crowds of several hundred people to his talks including members of the nobility. Said to have increased the number of plant kinds from 300 in the 1720s to about 3000 by the 1740s
1731 – Obtains 400 copper dalers from the Royal Society of Science for a trip to Lapland
1732 – 10 month and 3000 mile journey through Lapland; publishes first part of Florula Lapponica which uses his ‘sexual system’ of classification
1735 – Travels to Europe at Hamburg in April, on to Holland in June receiving medical doctorate from the University of Harderwijk. In Amsterdam he meets Burman, Boerhaave, and Gronovius and meets up with friend Artedi at Leiden where he publishes Systema Naturae with 12 editions published between 1735 and 1768, by the time of the 10th edition in 1758 it ran into many volumes that included about 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants; meets George Clifford a wealthy director of the Dutch East India Company and given lodging at Clifford’s estate at Hartekamp near Haarlem where he is to catalogue the plants and herbarium; Artedi drowns in an Amsterdam canal
1736 – Publishes Bibliotheca Botanica and Fundamenta Botanica in Amsterdam and Musa Cliffortiana in Leiden; travels to England in July where he meets Sir Hans Sloane, Peter Collinson, Philip Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden, visiting Oxford and the Botanic Garden (est. 1621) he meets Johann Dillenius, Sherardian Professor of Botany, and James Sherard; in August returns to Holland and begins work on Hortus Cliffortianus
1737 – Publishes Genera Plantarum and Critica Botanica in Leiden and Flora Lapponica in Amsterdam; spends winter at Leiden classifying the plants in the Leiden Botanic Garden
1738 – Publishes Hortus Cliffortianus (dated 1737) and ,em>Classes Plantarum; in May travels to Paris where he meets the three de Jussieu taxonomists Anton, Joseph and Bernard; returns to Sweden where he is engaged to Sara Lisa (who he marries in 1739) and becomes a medical practitioner in Stockholm
1741 – Offered and takes up a medical professorship at Uppsala as Professor of Botany; journeys to Öland and Gotland
1745 – Publishes Öländska och Gothländska Resa in Stockholm and Uppsala and Flora Suecica in Stockholm
1746Fauna Suecica published in Stockholm
1747 – Publishes Wästgöte-Resa and Flora Zeylanica in Stockholm
1748 – Publishes Hortus Upsaliensis in Stockholm
1749 – Publishes Materia Medica in Stockholm and Amoenitates Academicae in Stockholm and Leiden; journey to Skåne
1750 – The anointment of his students as ‘apostles’ sent out into the world for the cause of botany
1751 – Publishes Skåne Resa and Philosophia Botanica in Stockholm; describes zoological collections of Queen Lovisa Ulrika and King Adolf Fredrik using binomial nomenclature
1752 – Publishes Species Plantarum in Stockholm, a global Flora accepted internationally as the starting point for botanical nomenclature
1758 – Publishes 10th edition of Systema Naturae, accepted internationally as the starting point for zoological nomenclature
1761 – Is ennobled (ante-dated 1757) and assumes the name Carl Von Linné
1774 – Publishes Systema Vegetabilium in Gottingen and Gotha
1778 – Linnaeus dies on 10 January following a stroke

Key points

  • Species Plantarum (1753) in combination with Genera Plantarum (5th ed., 1754) constitute the internationally agreed starting point for botanical nomenclature. Systema Naturae, vol. 1 (10th ed., 1758) is likewise taken as the international starting point for animal nomenclature. Together, Systema Naturae and Species Plantarum gave binomial names to all the organisms known in Linnaeus’s day
  • Linnaeus did not discover binomial nomenclature but he standardized its use
  • Linnaeus’s use of ‘Apostles’ built on an ancient tradition of using botanists and gardeners on voyages of scientific exploration that would proved extremely popular during the Enlightenment period of European colonial expansion

First published on the internet – 1 March 2019


Linnaeus’s Sexual System
Page 837 from the 10th edition of Linnaeus’s Systema naturae (1758), explaining the so-called “sexual system” of plants.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Hanno – – Accessed 13 February 2021

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