Japanese emperor fetes Linnaeus tricentenary in Sweden

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are the guests of honour Wednesday at festivities in Sweden marking the 300th birthday of Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who invented the current system of classifying organisms.

The emperor, a marine biologist known for his interest in the goby fish, is an avid fan of Linnaeus and an honorary member of the Linnean Society of London, an academic institute named after the Swede.

In his groundbreaking book Systema Naturae, published in 1735, Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linne, the name he was given after he was knighted by the Swedish king in 1757, classified the animal, plant and mineral worlds, defining each species by a double name in Latin.

Under this binomial nomenclature, the first name referred to the genus and the second a specific “shorthand” name. It was Linnaeus who coined the term Homo sapiens, a species that he classified among primates.

“He named 8,000 different flora and around 4,000 to 5,000 animals … most of the vegetable kingdom around us,” Carl-Olof Jacobson, a retired zoology professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University and chairman of the Swedish Linnaeus Society, told AFP.

Sweden has been celebrating the tricentary since the start of the year, with festivities, exhibits and conferences taking place there and around the world, culminating on Wednesday, Linnaeus’ 300th birthday.

The main celebrations were to take place in Uppsala, a small town north of Stockholm where Linnaeus worked as a university professor in the 18th century.

The imperial couple attended a memorial ceremony Wednesday morning in Uppsala Cathedral, where Linneaus is buried. Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia also attended, as did a number of Linnaeus’ descendants.

Later they will attend the premiere of a specially-commissioned choral and orchestral work by Swedish composer Jan Sandström at Uppsala University, followed by a banquet at Uppsala Castle.

The imperial couple’s trip to Sweden has largely been a visit in Linnaeus footsteps.

On Tuesday, Akihito, 73, and Michiko, 72, toured Stockholm’s Bergius Botanic Garden, which was created by one of Linnaeus’ students and which is home to many of the species he categorized.

They also visited the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which Linnaeus helped found in 1739 and which each year awards the prestigious Nobel Prizes in the fields of chemistry, physics and economics.

The imperial couple will leave Sweden on Thursday for the three Baltic states, before heading to Britain.

Click on to read a profile of Sweden’s master of classification