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Organising nature

“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 the stamens.

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
Disciples
Systema Naturae
and the sexual system




Linnaeus’ sexual system with the 24 classes illustrated. Illustration by Georg Dionys Ehret.