“God created - Linnaeus organised”. That was how
Linnaeus himself summed up his lifetime achievements. To us it
may sound like evidence of delusions of grandeur, but to Linnaeus
the words were ones of humility. He was the one lucky enough to
have been chosen to discover the order in God’s Creation.
A good choice indeed – Linnaeus had a distinct gift for
gathering information, then systematising and classifying it.
The sexual system
Classifying nature was the order of the day, but Linnaeus was
not content with the botanical systems already proposed. In his opinion, stamens
and pistils must be the most important criteria for classifying
plants. He therefore invented a system where plants were divided
into 24 classes depending on how many stamens the flowers had.
The so-called "sexual system" was first presented in Linnaeus’ famous
work Systema Naturae, published in 1735. The botanists
of Europe found it hard to accept Linnaeus’ system, it was
so... different! Many were also shocked at his comparisons with
sex life of humans. “Nine men in a bridal chamber with
one woman”, Linnaeus wrote with reference to the flowers
that had nine stamens and one pistil. The world was amazed and
shocked. However, many soon realised how practical the sexual
system was, and it became universally acknowledged. It was now
easy to determine what class a species belonged to by counting
It became a lifetime’s work to continually add to Systema Naturae. It came to include new classifications of the other two
natural kingdoms: animals and minerals. Animal species were classified
in a new way, where for the first time humanity was given a biological
classification and was placed among the primates as the species
Homo sapiens. Linnaeus constantly revised the Systema Naturae. The 13th edition appeared in 1770 and comprised 3,000 pages.
His life and work
Traveller and writer
and the sexual system
Linnaeus’ sexual system with the 24 classes illustrated.
Illustration by Georg Dionys Ehret.