Putting Plants and Animals in Their Place

From Issue: Discovery 7/1/2004

Carl’s father was a preacher, and he wanted his son to grow up to be a preacher, too. One day, Carl’s teacher told his father that he wasn’t doing too well in a few of his classes. It seemed that Carl (short for Carolus) Linnaeus just wasn’t gifted in the areas of study relating to ministry. However, Carl excelled in the sciences, so in 1727, his father let him go to the Uni-versity of Lund to study medicine. Some of the school’s teachers were not very good, so when class ended in the afternoons, Carl studied plants on his own. The next year, Carl moved to Uppsala University, and got a scholarship. Carl kept studying, and in 1730, he discovered how plants reproduce.

As he studied plants, Linnaeus saw things that made each kind of plant different from other kinds of plants. He noticed these characteristics, and put different types of plants in categories—he classifiedthem. Classifying living things is called taxonomy, and Caro-lus Linnaeus is probably the greatest taxonomist in history, because he introduced something brand new: binomial nomenclature. Using binomial nomenclature, Carl gave two special scientific names to each species he found. Most scientists still use binomial nomenclature today. For example, humans are called Homo sapiens, and dogs are called Canis familiaris. Before long, Linnaeus had developed such an extensive system of taxonomy that anytime someone came across an unfamiliar species, he could easily classify it in Carl’s system.

In 1732, Linnaeus classified more living things during his journeys through Lapland and Sweden, and he wrote about what he found. Carl wrote often about God, because he believed that all the amazing kinds of plants and animals were created specially by God. Linnaeus wrote: “One is completely stunned by the incredible resourcefulness of the Creator. I saw the infinite, all-knowing and all-powerful God from behind.… I followed His footsteps over nature’s fields and saw everywhere an eternal wisdom and power, an inscrutable perfection.”

Linnaeus had lots of pets, including a dog named Pompey. Pompey went to worship with Carl on Sundays and sat under the pew. Linnaeus rarely missed a church service, but when he couldn’t come, Pompey went to church anyway, and sat under the pew until the service ended. Carolus Linnaeus kept working as a teacher, doctor, and researcher until a stroke forced him to retire in 1774. He suffered another stroke in 1776, and died in 1778. Carl never became a preacher, but he still influenced many people for good. You can, too!


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