Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) was an eighteenth-century Swedish professor, physician and naturalist who tasked himself with naming and describing all known kinds of plants, animals and minerals. In 1753 he tackled plants in his publication ‘Species Plantarum’, in which he used the binomial (“two-name”) system of naming plants (which had been developed earlier by Caspar Bauhin) alongside his proper name for each plant (a polynomial (“many-named”) system using a maximum of 12 words for each plant).

For example, his proper, polynomial, name for catnip was Nepeta floribus interrupte spicatus pendunculatis. Linnaeus then used the genus name Nepeta and added ‘cataria’ to form his binomial name (cataria meaning ‘associated with cats’). Today this binomial name is how we know catnip: Nepeta cataria.

The naming system is now managed by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, which documents all plant names and naming conventions.

Where a species of plant was originally described by Linnaeus, he is sometimes credited as author by an ‘L.’ or ‘Linnaeus’ being printed at the end of a plant name. Occasionally this also followed by the original date of publication.

Linnaeus carried out many expeditions to discover new plants and catalogue them. Several species are named after him, including ‘Linnaea borealis‘, a twinflower which Linnaeus came to love during his travels.