Carl Linnaeus, botantist and father of modern plant taxonomy scandalized his world with his talk about a plant’s sexual parts, but his taxonomic system finally won out over others in use at the time.
In her book, The Brother Gardeners, Andrea Wulf lays out the difficulties botanists had with identifying and naming plants that would be useful to scientists around the world. “priests bollocks” and “mare’s fart” did not work everywhere.
The important Miller’sGardener’s Dictionary listed ALL the names various given a plant. Other old systems devised long names that included a plant’s habitat, leaf shapes and calyx.
Wulf explains that Linnaeus was not so much an innovator as a consolidator when he came up with his simple and logical binomial nomenclature system. A plant would have a generic name and a specific name which only scientists could bestow. All this was laid out in his book Species Plantarum. He and his system were not universally lauded. He was considered vain, his system called useless and unpardonable. His book was banned by the Vatican.
As we all know his system did become the standard. He also named many plants for those plant hunters who found new plants, or for the scientists who were connected one was or another. For example, Linneaus’ teacher Olof Rudbeck gave his name to Rudbeckia. “The tall flower reflected Rudbeck’s stature, Linnaeus explained, and the ray-like petals bore ‘witness that you shone among savants like the sun amon the stars.’ The Linnaea, a diminutive forest flower from Lapland Linnaeus described as ‘lowly, insignificant, disregarded’ – just like himself ‘who resembles it’ because like the Linnaea he felt forgotten and ignored,” Wulf writes.
While I missed celebrating on his actual birthday, I could not let the week close without celebrating this amazing Swede. I wrote more about The Brother Gardeners here, and about Andrea Wulf’s other book The Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation here