“If a tree dies, plant another in its place.”
Scientists today place all life in neat categories with sensible names that do not change. A few hundred years ago, though, scientists gave plants and animals long Latin names and often changed those names at will. Carl Linnaeus changed that when he developed an organized system that is still used today.
- Carl Linnaeus was born in Sweden in 1707. His father was a Lutheran minister and an avid gardener.
- Carl inherited his father’s love of plants. As a young child, his parents would offer him a flower when he was upset. The flowers seemed to calm him.
- Carl’s father taught him at home until he was 11. He learned Latin, geography, and religion. He was later sent to a private school, but he seldom went to class. He preferred to be out in the fields studying.
- He showed no interest in becoming a priest, much to his parents’ disappointment.
- Instead, he decided to become a doctor. His medical studies included extensive lessons in botany – or the study of plants. Doctors then used medicines made from plants, so it was very important that they understood them.
- Carl went on several trips throughout Europe to find and collect plants. He brought plant specimens back with him to Sweden.
- He began to develop a system of classifying plants and animals. He put them into the groups that are still used today – kingdoms, classes, orders, genera, and species.
- Carl wrote several volumes describing his findings and his system for organizing and naming forms of life.
- After medical school, Carl practiced medicine and became a highly respected university professor. He eventually became the Swedish royal family’s physician and was given a title of nobility.
- Many of his students went on expeditions around the world to gather plants.
- Carl wanted to help Sweden’s economy and prevent the famines that often occurred there. He tried to adapt coffee, cacao, and rice crops to grow in Sweden. His efforts failed.
- Carl was deeply religious. He said that studying nature helped him understand and come closer to God.
- Carl was married and had seven children. His son, also named Carl, became a botanist too. He died not long after his father.
Questions and Answers
Question: What happened to Carl’s books, writings, and plant specimens?
Answer: After his death, his widow, Sara, sold them to James Edward Smith, an Englishman who formed the Linnaean Society of London, an organization that still exists today.