Celebrating the 300th Anniversary of
Carolus Linnaeus

Javier Francisco-Ortega, Mark Carine, Charlie Jarvis, Arnoldo Santos Guerra, Mike Maunder

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardeb is joining other institutions in celebrating the life, contributions and remarkable achievements of this botanical pioneer.

With the financial support of a Fellowship from the Royal Society, we have been studying Linnaeus' documents and specimens held at the Linnean Society of London (LSL).

Our botanical historical research has focused specifically on the correspondence and material sent to Linnaeus by Francis Masson from the Atlantic islands of Azores, Canaries and Madeira between 1776 and 1778. Francis Masson, born in 1741 in Aberdeen, Scotland, was the first official plant collector for Kew Gardens and is considered one of the greatest plant hunters ever. He shipped specimens primarily to Sir Joseph Banks, the founder of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the core of this collection is found in the Natural History Museum in London.

Plant material sent to Linnaeus from these Atlantic islands was later studied by his son Carolus Linnaeus "the younger," who described a total of 28 species endemic to these islands.

Carolus Linnaeus, born in Stenbrohult in southern Sweden on May 23, 1707, is widely regarded as the father of modern taxonomy. He developed a new system of classifying organisms that was rapidly adopted by biologists worldwide because of the ease with which it allowed organisms to be identified. It was particularly revolutionary for plants, which he grouped according to the number and arrangement of the male and female reproductive parts. His second innovation was the introduction of a new binomial system of nomenclature, with each species given a single species name (rather than a lengthy, descriptive name in Latin) to accompany its genus. Introduced in his Species Plantarum (1763), binomial names proved a popular development, and Linnaeus' book still provides the starting point from which scientific botanical names date.

A prolific writer, Linnaeus published more than 140 research publications during his life. Most of the correspondence he received is found in the LSL. It comprises approximately 3,000 letters from more than 600 naturalists worldwide,an indication of the extraordinary influence he had on science during his lifetime. His letters and collections are currently being digitized under the aegis of the Linnean Society of London, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Swedish Linnaean Society, and Uppsala University and its library. A great deal of information on the letters (both those held at LSL and elsewhere) is available at http://www.linnaeus.c18.net/ and digitized images of the letters at LSL will be available during 2007. Linnaeus' own library and specimens are now at LSL, having been bought in 1783 by an Englishman, Sir James Edward Smith, and purchased in 1829 by the Linnean Society of London.

The First

Linnaeus can be regarded as the first scientific botanic garden horticulturist. As a young man in 1736, he was appointed curator of a private zoo and botanic garden owned by Dutch banker George Clifford, whose collection included tropical plants in glasshouses. One can imagine Linnaeus' excitement as he got to know the extraordinary collection: "I was astounded when I entered the conservatories so full of manifold plants that a son of the North must feel enchanted and confused as to which foreign part of the world he had been transported to." Linnaeus set about describing this collection and, importantly, identified the horticultural skills needed to grow the plants. In the "Hortus Cliffortianus," written by Linnaeus and published by Clifford in 1738, we are given an insight into the management of an 18th-century botanic garden. Linnaeus, for example, describes the growing conditions needed to cultivate the new South African plants and the soils needed for bulbs. While curating Clifford's living collection, Linnaeus was the first person to cultivate and successfully bring to fruit the banana. With evident pride, Linnaeus published the horticultural protocols that he had used, thus setting the standards for scientific horticulture in the western world.

In 1741, Linnaeus was appointed as Professor of Botany and Chemistry and Director of the botanic garden at Uppsala University in Sweden. He valued the botanic garden as a major resource for teaching and research, and one of his first priorities in his new appointment was its restoration. This garden was founded in 1666, but a major fire, which destroyed half of Uppsala in 1702, severely affected the botanic garden as well.

When Linnaeus took over his professorship, the garden was almost in ruins. He not only restored the neglected garden but also enlarged it. He built a new orangery with a "solarium" (sun house) and a "vaporarium" (stove). Shortly after the new garden was rebuilt, Linnaeus wrote an article describing the new garden and stating its aims and usefulness, not only to the university but also to the community. Linnaeus was always close to the garden, and indeed his own residence was located in one of its corners. He spent most of his life there until he died in 1778.

Many of the plants grown in this garden by Linnaeus and his colleagues were the basis for the description of new species. The living collections were arranged following his classification system so the garden was a truly "living textbook" where students and colleagues could see particular species and understand how they were accommodated in his system of classification. Linnaeus gave a new dimension to botanic gardens, and can be considered one of the pioneers in establishing the educational, research and museum missions of botanic gardens in our society.

Linnaeus The Mentor

Linnaeus was also an extraordinary mentor. Seventeen of his best students, known as the Linnaean Apostles, traveled the continents to study and document natural history worldwide; seven of them died during these trips. One of his disciples, Carl Peter Thunberg, took over Linnaeus' professorship at Uppsala in 1784 after traveling to South Africa, Japan, Java and Sri Lanka.

Daniel Solander was another distinguished disciple who not only traveled on James Cook's first voyage around the world, but also became the first curator of the herbarium of the Natural History Museum in London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Linnaeus himself also traveled, making five extensive trips in Scandinavia that were supported by the Swedish government. He spent several years in the Netherlands, also making brief visits to England and France. His trips, and those by his apostles, focused on understanding the natural world and how plants were used by people. In many aspects, Linnaeus can also be considered as the father of ethnobotany as a discipline. During his lifetime, Carolus Linnaeus gave a new perspective to man's understanding of the natural world and provided a totally new approach on how to map nature. In our research he is a major reference for our studies whose views on natural history are as valid today as they were 300 years ago. Eleven Linnaean organizations thrive in Australia, Canada, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. His legacy thrives at Fairchild, where the scientific principles for classification and botanic garden horticulture are being advanced through collaborative research.

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