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Carolus Linnaeus

Carolus Linnaeus Photo

He was given the name Carolus Linnaeus at birth on 23rd May 1707 but after living a life celebrating nature in all forms, sizes, and colors, he was knighted by the King of Sweden and took on the name so familiar to all naturalists today: Carl von Linne in 1761.  Carolus Linnaeus or Carl von Linne was one of the most brilliant naturalists the world has been fortunate enough to have. He was not only a pioneer of ecology, but his binomial system of describing living organisms is still a gold standard followed reverently by all students of nature.

The eldest son of Nils and Christina Linnaeus’s five children, Linnaeus became engrossed in nature from a very early age, thanks to his father. Nils, himself a lover of nature, introduced Linnaeus to botany very early on and by the age of five, he was cultivating his very own garden. Although his mother, Christina envisioned him as a minister in future, Linnaeus’s passion for nature was evident to everyone else around him, including his teachers at school. Johan Rothman was one such a teacher who saw Linnaeus’s interest in science and convinced his father to let him pursue his line of interest. On Nils agreement, Rothman tutored Carl for a year.

The next person to fall under the spell of Linnaeus’s brilliance was Olof Celsius at the Uppsala University. Celsius was a religion professor with a deep interest in the plant culture of Sweden. In order to prevent poverty from diverting Linnaeus from his true calling, Celsius provided Linnaeus free boarding and encouraged him to carry on his studies. During that time one of the most significant topics among the Naturalist faculty of Sweden was the study of the sexuality of plants. Linnaeus wrote a research paper on this topic, which Celsius showed to Olof Rudbeck, one of the most influential naturalists of that time. The essay had such a profound effect on Rudbeck that he hired Linnaeus as a lecturer in botany and a tutor of his sons.

Binomial system and classification

One of the most enduring scientific contributions of Linnaeus is the simple yet phenomenal naming and classifying system of animals and plants called the Binomial System. To keep up with the speed at which new plants were being discovered and not being classified according to their origin or family as swiftly, Linnaeus developed a simple system of classifying plants according to the number of its floral parts. This system stayed in use throughout the nineteenth century, but eventually, Linnaeus perfected it even further by classifying all flora and fauna according to its genus (class or group) followed by its specific name.

Pioneer in ecology

Linnaeus first touched upon the subject and importance of ecology in his thesis in 1749. He emphasized the importance of recognizing relationships of organisms in nature. He was also the first naturalist to establish the idea of food chains. He specialized in the study and identification of natural habitat of different species and insects and their feeding habits and requirements. He believed that biological knowledge was not just crucial in medicine but also in agriculture. One of his biggest achievements is convincing scientists that in order to effectively control agricultural pests, one must first thoroughly understand the organism and its life cycle.

Other Notable Contributions

Apart from making his mark in the study and understanding of nature, Linnaeus contributed towards other fields of science as well-

  • It was Linnaeus who perfected the Celsius temperature scale into what we use today. The original Celsius scale was developed by his compatriot, Anders Celsius, who believed that 0°C was water’s boiling point while 100°C was its freezing point. Linnaeus modified it by reversing the values and the result was so convincing that it was soon adopted by the rest of the scientific world as well.
  • Linnaeus also took the lead in placing humans in the primate family as well as establishing bats as mammals and not just birds. Linnaeus did not believe that humans had any evolutionary link with apes and he demonstrated this reasoning based on categorizing similarities between species.

Carolus Linnaeus died on 10th January 1778 on his farm named Hammarby near Uppsala. Today Hammarby is a museum dedicated to Linnaeus’s work, his botanical collections, and a garden celebrating his love for nature.

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