Thursday, May 24, 2012

How a Cobbler became the 'Princeps Botanicorum' - Carl Linnaeus

Georg D. Ehrnet: Methodus Plantaris Sexualis
(Systema Naturae, 1736)
Taxonomy as a science has been founded by the 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linné (later enobled Carl von Linné or more fashionable in Latin Carolus Linnaeus). He was born 305 years ago in 1707 and after some difficulties right at the start - he was a rather sluggish student and his dissapointed father saw no other option than to apprentice him to a cobbler...Linné soon realized that academia might not be the worst choice and begged for a second chance, which was granted - he studied medicine in Sweden and Holland. But, his passion should become nature and all living things. He started to write catalogues of the world's plants and animal species, using a system devised by his own, which lead to his great work, the Systema Naturae and made him famous. He is reported not being the most modest man of his time. He even suggested that his grave stone should bear the inscription Princeps Botanicorum (similar to the title having been granted to Carl Friedrich Gauss, the Prince of Mathematicians).

Linné classified all living things on earth according to its physical attributes. The idea is to categorize everything hierarchically. A certain species belongs to a special genus, several genera belong to a special family, which is further summarized in orders, classes, subphyla, phyla, kingdoms, and domains. So, e.g., man is of the genus Homo and of the species Sapiens. We belong to the family of Hominidae, which is part of the order Primates, which belong to the class Mammalia, which belong to the subphylum Vertebrae, belonging to the phylum Chordata. Furthermore we belong to the kingdom animalia and the domain eucaria. This is the Taxonomy we use today.

At yovisto, you might start with a rather short but informative video about the merrits of Carl Linné: The Natural History Museum presentes Carl Linnaeus. For a more scientific approach to the works and life of Carl Linné, we also have an entire lecture of the Smithsonian Institute for Natural History on 'Three Hundred Years of Linnaean Taxonomy'.

 

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