Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Christians in Science: Carolus Linnaeus

  • Ray and Gale Lawson Contributing Writers
  • Published Dec 16, 2005
Christians in Science: Carolus Linnaeus

Linnaeus: The Man
Carolus Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linne or Carl Linnaeus, was born on May 23, 1707 in the southern Swedish province of Smaland. His father, Nils Linnaeus, was a Lutheran pastor with an interest in gardening. It was probably in his father's garden that Carolus' love and enthusiasm for plants began. Nils would often decorate Carolus' bed with flowering plants and give him a flower to play with when he seemed unhappy as a baby!

At the age of four he attended a picnic with his father and some friends. To entertain everyone, his father told about different plants, their names, and interesting facts about each one. Carolus was hooked on botany. He wanted to learn more and begged his father to teach him.

He spent several years studying abroad in Europe before returning to Stockholm, Sweden where he served as a physician for three years. While in Stockholm, he was offered a professorship at Uppsala University where he would spend the rest of his life. Reported to be a very entertaining teacher, he attracted students from all different backgrounds. He believed in supplementing class lectures with countryside excursions he called "Herbationes." During these field trips he had the students up at dawn and took them on 12 to 15 mile hikes to study and examine plants. He even told them to wear loose fitting clothes, wide rimmed hats and light shoes so they would not get tired and sweaty!

In old age, Carolus began to suffer from what may have been a stroke. He was still interested in plants, but could no longer remember their names. He often forgot his own name and could not remember that he had written books about plants. It is said that once he saw the books he had written laid out in front of him, and stated that he would have been a happy man to have written such books. He did not remember that it was he who wrote the books.

Linnaeus: The Scientist
As a scientist, Linnaeus tried to apply what he had learned to help the economy of Sweden and reduce famine. He tried to grow cacao, coffee, tea, bananas and rice in Sweden, but the cold climate would not allow it. He also tried to grow mulberries, but that failed as well. The interesting thing about growing mulberries is that, had he been successful, Sweden could have used the mulberry plants as food for silkworms, which in turn could be used to make silk. By raising mulberry plants a silk industry could have been established!

Carolus had a sense of humor. When botanist Johann Siegesbeck criticized Linnaeus's method of classifying plants, Linnaeus responded by naming a small and useless European weed, Siegesbeckia, in his honor.

Linnaeus: The Christian
Carolus was raised in a religious home and had deep beliefs concerning God and nature. It was his belief that since God created the world, it was possible to understand God's wisdom by studying His creation.

"The Earth's creation is the glory of God, as seen from the works of Nature by Man alone. The study of nature would reveal the Divine Order of God's creation, and it was the naturalist's task to construct a 'natural classification' that would reveal this Order in the universe."

Linnaeus believed that new species of plants could be developed by methods such as "hybridization." Evolutionists often point to this as evidence that he was an evolutionist himself. But some clarification is in order. Linnaeus believed that the process of generating new species was not open-ended and unlimited, but that the original plants in the Garden of Eden provided what was needed for new species to develop and that such development was part of God's plan. There is no evidence that open-ended evolution was ever considered by Linnaeus, and, in fact, such talk would probably have shocked him.

Classifying Plants
Although Linnaeus started a formal method for classifying plants, over the years scientists have added to his work. In fact, today there are several methods for naming plants and it can get pretty complicated. Fortunately, as you will see, there is a simplified way for those of us who are not professional botanists. In general though, here is the basic procedure for naming plants:

Class – do they produce flowers or not?
Angiosperme – plants which produce flowers

Gymnosperme – plants which do not produce flowers

Subclass – do they have one or two seed leaves?
Dicotyledonae – plants with two seed leaves

Monocotyledonae – plants with one seed leaf

Superorder – do the plants seem to be related to one another in some way?
For Dicotyledonae – Magnoliidae, Hamamelidae, Caryphyllidae, Dilleniidae, Rosidae, Asteridae

For Monocotyledonae – Alismatidae, Commelinidae, Arecidae, Liliidae

(Do you recognize some familiar names like Magnolia, Rose, Aster and Lily?)

Each Superorder is divided into several Orders. The names of the different Orders all end in –ales.

Family – some botanists recognize 150 families, others recognize nearly 500!
The names of Families end in –aceae. Usually the Family name is as high as the classification goes.

The names end in –oideae.

Tribe – Tribes take into account even more detail about the plant.
Tribe names end in –eae.

Subtribe – Even more detail!
The names end in –inae. Usually only trained botanists recognize this level of detail!

Genus – This is the part of a plant name that is most familiar.
The Genus is written starting with a Capital letter.

Species – This identifies something about the plant such as color or leaf shape.
The species is written with lower case letters.

Variety – This identifies a very small difference in a species.
Variety follows the species name and starts with var. before the Variety name.

Form – Another small detail of a plant.
Form fits in between species and variety and starts with the word form or f.

Cultivar – A plant that has arisen from cultivation.
Usually the Cultivar is written in quotations or has a cv. in front of it.

Here is an example of how this all plays out for a plant called the Lesser Spearwort with narrow leaves:
Angiospermae Dicotyledonae Magnoliidae Ranunculares Ranunculaceae Ranunculoideae Ranunculeae Ranunculus flammula subsp. Flammula var. tenuifolius

That is a mouthful! A botanist can look at this name and know just about everything about this plant! But what about the rest of us? One thing Linnaeus also did was create what is known as the "binomial" (meaning two names) method whereby we commonly only use the Genus and Species names, which would be Ranunculus flammula, or R. flammula. Spearwort works for me!

Career Decisions
If you have an interest in biology, botany or agriculture, you will certainly become exposed to Plant Taxonomy as well as many other areas such as Plant Morphology (structure), Plant Anatomy (tissue structure details), Plant Pathology (causes and control of diseases), Plant Physiology (chemical processes) and Plant Genetics (breeding).

Some Fun for the Dinner Table
The next time someone asks you what you want for dinner, try some of the following binomial answers:

 Instead of:  Ask for:
 Cabbage    Cruciferae brassica
 Carrots    Daucus carota
 Onions    Allium cepa
 Peppers    Capsicum annuum
 Sweet Potato Pie  Ipomoea batatas Pie
 Sweet Corn  Zea mays


Ray and Gale Lawson  have been homeschooling their 3 children since 1995. Ray holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and works for Washington Group International. Gale holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Carolina and is full-time mom and teacher. They are members of Breezy Hill Baptist Church in Graniteville, SC. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcomed and can be emailed to them at vmi1981@bellsouthnet (Ray) or (Gale).

This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec '05 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit To request a free sample copy, visit