Special Libraries & Archives

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Carolus Linneaus
Engraving of Carolus Linnæus
Special Libraries and Archives, SB 58081 Lin s 2

Collection Highlight
Summer 2007

Carolus Linnæus, Species Plantarum, Stockholm 1762-3
Swedish biologist Carl von Linné, (1707-1778), also known by the Latinised form of his name Carolus Linnæus, is best remembered as a botanist and the founder of modern systems of naming living organisms.

Linnæus published about 180 books and papers in total. His publication Species Plantarum is one of his seminal works and is considered the starting point for binomial nomenclature (the use of just two names to describe any given species). Prior to this plants and animals were designated by long, descriptive names (polynomials) that varied from author to author; there was little agreement on how to group and organise knowledge about plants and animals. Even determining which organism was being described in one work and matching it to a similar description in another was not easy. However, Linnæus’ Species Plantarum accomplished this in botanical terms.

Species Plantarum was first published in Stockholm in 1753 as a two-volume work. It contained all plants known at the time. It allowed easy identification of plants, by putting every genus in an artificial class and order. By counting pistils and stamens, even those with little plant knowledge were able to get to a listing of genera that the plant in question should belong to. The use of Latin for describing plants enabled positive identification of species anywhere in the world, overcoming the use of differing vernacular names.

Species Plantarum. Special Libraries and Archives, SB 58081 Lin s 2

The edition on display is the 2nd edition and dates from 1762-63. Species Plantarum ran to many editions with new species being added to each. This book is important in biological sciences, not only as it marked the starting point for binomial nomenclature, but it made botany accessible to the masses through its simple classification system. It contributed greatly to the rise in interest in botany in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

This exhibition is part of the University’s celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of the famous Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. Visit the Zoology Museum in the School of Biological Sciences for the main exhibition.

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