Carl Linnaeus


Carl Linnaeus : biography

23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778

Linnaeus entered the Växjö Gymnasium in 1724, where he studied mainly Greek, Hebrew, theology and mathematics, a curriculum designed for boys preparing for the priesthood.Stöver (1974), p. 6.Blunt (2004), pp. 16–17. In the last year at the gymnasium, Linnaeus’ father visited to ask the professors how his son’s studies were progressing; to his dismay, most said that the boy would never become a scholar. Rothman believed otherwise, suggesting Linnaeus could have a future in medicine. The doctor offered to have Linnaeus live with his family in Växjö and to teach him physiology and botany. Nils accepted this offer.Blunt (2004), pp. 17–18.Stöver (1974), pp. 8–11.



Rothman showed Linnaeus that botany was a serious subject. He taught Linnaeus to classify plants according to Tournefort’s system. Linnaeus was also taught about the sexual reproduction of plants, according to Sébastien Vaillant. In 1727, Linnaeus, age 21, enrolled in Lund University in Skåne.Blunt (2004), p. 18.Stöver (1974), p. 13. He was registered as ‘, the Latin form of his full name, which he also used later for his Latin publications.

Professor Kilian Stobæus, natural scientist, physician and historian, offered Linnaeus tutoring and lodging, as well as the use of his library, which included many books about botany. He also gave the student free admission to his lectures.Blunt (2004), pp. 21–22.Stöver (1974), p. 15. In his spare time, Linnaeus explored the flora of Skåne, together with students sharing the same interests.Stöver (1974), pp. 14–15.


During a visit with his parents, Linnaeus told them about his plan to travel to Lapland; Rudbeck had made the journey in 1695, but the detailed results of his exploration were lost in a fire seven years afterwards. Linnaeus’ hope was to find new plants, animals and possibly valuable minerals. He was also curious about the customs of the native Sami people, reindeer-herding nomads who wandered Scandinavia’s vast tundras. In April 1732, Linnaeus was awarded a grant from the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala for his journey.Anderson (1997), pp. 42–43.Blunt (2001), p. 38.

Linnaeus began his expedition from Uppsala in May; he travelled on foot and horse, bringing with him his journal, botanical and ornithological manuscripts and sheets of paper for pressing plants. Near Gävle he found great quantities of Campanula serpyllifolia, later known as Linnaea borealis, the twinflower that would become his favourite.Blunt (2001), pp. 42–43. He sometimes dismounted on the way to examine a flower or rockAnderson (1997), pp. 43–44. and was particularly interested in mosses and lichens, the latter a main part of the diet of the reindeer, a common and economically important animal in Lapland.Anderson (1997), p. 46.

Linnaeus travelled clockwise around the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, making major inland incursions from Umeå, Luleå and Tornio. He returned from his six-month long, over expedition in October, having gathered and observed many plants, birds and rocks.Blunt (2001), pp. 63–65.Blunt (2004), pp. 39–42.Broberg (2006), p. 29. Although Lapland was a region with limited biodiversity, Linnaeus described about 100 previously unidentified plants. These became the basis of his book ‘.Quammen (2007), p. 2.Stöver (1974), pp. 38–39.

In ‘ Linnaeus’ ideas about nomenclature and classification were first used in a practical way, making this the first proto-modern Flora. The account covered 534 species, used the Linnaean classification system and included, for the described species, geographical distribution and taxonomic notes. It was Augustin Pyramus de Candolle who attributed Linnaeus with ‘ as the first example in the botanical genre of Flora writing. Botanical historian E. L. Greene described ‘ as "the most classic and delightful" of Linnaeus’s works.Frodin (2001), p. 27.

It was also during this expedition that Linnaeus had a flash of insight regarding the classification of mammals. Upon observing the lower jawbone of a horse at the side of a road he was traveling, Linnaeus remarked: "If I only knew how many teeth and of what kind every animal had, how many teats and where they were placed, I should perhaps be able to work out a perfectly natural system for the arrangement of all quadrupeds."Blunt (2001), p. 54.