Carl Linnaeus

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Eighteenth century Swedish naturalist (renown especially as a botanist and taxonomist), and doctor and professor of medicine, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)[Note 1] established for the first time a widely acceptable and fruitful set of principles for classifying plants and animals into the groupings we know as species (a distinct interbreeding group of living systems) and genera (separate groups comprising few or many closely related species).[1][Note 2]  [2][Note 3] Linnaeus based his generic classification on morphological features, what he called the ‘natural characters’ of genera, examining the morphology of all the parts of the plants he classified.

Linnaeus also developed a consistent naming system for his classification of genera and species — called the binomial nomenclature — which assigned a name to a presumed species in two parts, first a Latin name for the assigned genus (singular form of the plural ‘genera’), and second, a species-specific Latin name indicating the particular species assigned to the genus.[Note 4]

Thus, scientists designate humans as Homo sapiens,[Note 5] meaning the ‘sapiens’-named species of the genus named ‘Homo’. They designate extinct species of humans belonging to the genus Homo, as, for example, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Homo ergaster. (Note the conventional use of ‘italics’ for the genus and species names, capitalization of the initial letter of the genus.)

[Linnaeus’s] system, with two Latin names for every species of animal or plant, is still used the world over and simplifies communication between all botanists, gardeners, zoologists, birdwatchers...All the ornithologists of Europe know what a Parus major is. However a Danish birdlover may not know that what he calls a "musvit" is what the French call a "mésange charbonnière" and the English call a "Great Tit" [or “Titmouse”]. In Swedish it is "talgoxe"….Linnaeus' idea was that if we learn the Latin names we won't need to know the names in other languages..[3]

Using his system, Linnaeus eventually classified some 7,700 plant species and some 4,400 animal species.[4]


Included among the Notes below are annotations to some of the references, which references are shown in the note in bold font as (author(s) year) .

  1. Carl Linnaeus is as known as Carolus Linnaeus and Carl von Linné.
  2. (Linné online): Uppsala Universitet. | "On this website Uppsala University presents research relating to the work of one of the most famous professors throughout its history, namely Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) (1707–1778)."
  3. (Quammen 2007): "Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus was an early information architect. He believed that every kind of plant and animal on Earth should be named and classified."
  4. The plural of 'genus' is 'genera'; the plural of 'species' is 'species'.
  5. Linnaeus gave us the name Homo sapiens.


  1. Linné online. Uppsala Universitet.
  2. Quammen D. (2007) A Passion for Order. National Geographic Magazine June 2007.
  3. Why is Linnaeus world-famous?
  4. A Test Case for DNA Barcodes to Identify Species. (2004) PLoS Biology Vol. 2, No. 10, e357.