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Carl Linnaeus

Wedgwood medallion of Carl Linnaeus made in about 1775

Carl Linnaeus (1707–78) was a Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician. In the 1730s, Linnaeus devised a way of cataloguing all living things into a simple hierarchy. His system, still used today, helped scientists to name individual plants and animals, and understand how they are related to each other.

Linnaeus was ecstatic when his student Daniel Solander and Joseph Banks returned from the Endeavour voyage to the Pacific with thousands of unnamed plants and animals.

Left: The Wedgwood medallion of Carl Linnaeus was made in about 1775.
Photo: George Serras.

Portrait of Carl Linnaeus by Alexander Roslin

But he was less pleased when he heard Banks and Solander were planning another expedition, rather than working on classifying the specimens they had already collected. He was right to be worried: Banks's responsibilities for the Royal Society and Kew Gardens and Solander's death in 1782 meant the proposed Florilegium set of botanical illustrations) was not published in Banks's lifetime. As a result, Banks and Solander lost their naming rights to the specimens collected.

Left: This portrait of Carl Linnaeus was painted by Alexander Roslin. It hung in the Château de Versailles, home of the French royal family.
Courtesy: Château de Versailles, France, Lauros/Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Image of several plants classified on the basis of their sexual characteristics

Left: The 'Linnean plant sexual system' was controversial because it classified plants on the basis of their sexual characteristics. Prudish critics accused him of having a filthy mind! Courtesy: Natural History Museum, London, UK/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Table showing some plants and animals grouped and named according to the Linnean classification system.

This table shows some plants and animals grouped and named according to the Linnean classification system.

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