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Linnaeus, Carolus Carl von Linné

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Summary Article: Linnaeus, Carolus (1707–1778) from The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography
Carolus Linnaeus, the founder of modern taxonomic...
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Subject: biography, biology

Place: Sweden

Swedish botanist who became famous for introducing the binomial system of biological nomenclature (which is named after him and is universally used today), and for formulating basic principles for classification.

Linnaeus was born on 27 May 1707 in South Råshult, Sweden, the son of a clergyman. He was interested in plants even as a child, but his father sent him to study medicine, first at the University of Lund in 1727 and then at Uppsala University.

In 1730 Linnaeus was appointed lecturer in botany at Uppsala and two years later explored Lapland for the Uppsala Academy of Sciences. In 1735 Linnaeus left Sweden for Holland to obtain his MD at the University of Harderwijk. On his return to Sweden in 1738 Linnaeus practised as a physician, with considerable success, and in the following year he married Sara Moraea, a physician's daughter. In 1741 he was appointed professor of medicine at Uppsala University but changed this position in 1742 for the chair of botany, which he retained for the rest of his life. In 1761 Linnaeus was granted a patent of nobility – antedated to 1757 – by which he was entitled to call himself Carl von Linné. He suffered a stroke in 1774, which impaired his health, and he died on 10 January 1778 in Uppsala Cathedral, where he was buried.

Linnaeus's best-known work is probably Systema naturae (1735). In this book he introduced a simple yet methodical system of classifying plants according to the number of stamens and pistils in their flowers. This system overshadowed the earlier work of John Ray and was so convenient that it was a long time before it was replaced by a more natural system – despite the fact that Linnaeus himself recognized its artificiality.

Linnaeus made his most important contribution – the introduction of the binomial system of nomenclature, by which every species is identified by a generic name and a specific name – in 1753, with the publication of Species plantarum. Even today the starting point in the nomenclature of all flowering plants and ferns is internationally agreed to be the first edition of Species plantarum, together with the fifth edition of Genera plantarum (1754; first edition 1737). In these works he became the first person to formulate the principles for defining genera and species and to adhere to a uniform use of specific names. In 1758 he applied his binomial system to animal classification. With the rapid discovery of previously unknown plants and animals that was occurring in the 18th century, the value of Linnaeus' system was soon recognized and it had become almost universally adopted by the end of his life. The survival of the system to the present day is probably due to its great flexibility; Linnaeus himself believed that species were immutable and that he was classifying Creation (although he later modified this viewpoint slightly), but so adaptable was his system that it was able to accommodate modifications that later resulted from the introduction of evolutionary principles to taxonomy.

In addition to his books on classification, Linnaeus wrote many other works, including Flora Laponica (1737), the results of his journey to Lapland; Hortus Cliffortianus (1738), a description of the plants in the garden of George Clifford, a merchant with whom Linnaeus stayed during much of his time in Holland; and Flora Sueccia (1745) and Fauna Sueccia (1746), accounts of his biological observations during his travels in Sweden. After Linnaeus' death, his widow sold his manuscripts and natural history collection to James Edward Smith (1759–1828), the first president of the Linnean Society (founded in 1788), who took them to England. When Smith died the society purchased Linnaeus' manuscripts and specimens and they are now preserved by the society in Burlington House, London.

Linnaeus: classification of modern humans kingdom Animalia

phylum Chordata

sub-phylum Vertebrata

class Mammalia

order Primates

family Hominidae

genus Homo

species sapiens

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