Carl Linnaeus


The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum

Swedish Botanist Carl Linnaeus revolutionised the naming of living things by making scientific names short, easy to remember and universally recognisable. Linnaeus gave plants two Latin names, one for the genus and one for the species, together known as a binomial name. He originally called the species name 'the trivial name'. Prior to this, scientific names for species were often long and unwieldy. For example, the humble tomato, which was called Solanum caule inermi herbaceo, foliis pinnatis incisis, racemis simplicibus, became Solanum lycopersicum.

Linnaeus revealed his new binomial naming system in the catalogue of plants Species Plantarum, which he published in 1753. The plants described were specimens and illustrations found in the collections of great collectors like Dutch businessman George Clifford, botanists and travellers such as Dr Paul Hermann and Sir Hans Sloane, and early naturalists like Albertus Seba. Linnaeus gave binomial names to animals five years later in 1758.

Linnaeus encouraged his students to travel the world and bring back new and exciting specimens for him to study - people like Daniel Solander, who sailed with botanist Sir Joseph Banks on Cook's voyage to Australasia on HMS Endeavour.

Linnaeus spent his life grouping living things into defined hierarchies and giving them individual names. From 1753 until his death in 1778, he named thousands of plants and animals in this way. This binomial system was adopted by other scientists and became the standard way of naming organisms that is still used today.

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  • Title: Carl Linnaeus
  • Date: 1707/1778
  • Location: Uppsala, Sweden
  • Subject Keywords: Naming nature


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