How the Alstroemeria got its name

Every flower has its own scientific name

All over the world people enjoy flowers and plants. They're the same flowers and plants, yet in every country they have a different common name. Which is tricky when you want to talk about them! Luckily there was one Carl Linnaeus. He invented a system to give the many species of flowers and plants a scientific name. Thanks to him we now use the same names all over the world.

A binomial system

Carl Linnaeus was born in Sweden in 1707. His father was a preacher, and naturally he hoped that his son would follow him into the church. But Linnaeus had very different plans. He was far more interested in flowers and plants, and went to study medicine (in those days botany was a branch of medicine). Linnaeus soon made an impact as a student: he reorganised the university’s botanical garden, published influential papers and lectured medical students about plants. He was appointed as a professor, and in that role Linnaeus decided to come up with a new, clear classification system for flowers and plants. He thereby gave them two names, using a fixed system. The first name was the name of the genus, the second name was the name of the species. This resulted in the so-called 'binomial system'.

9000 species

Carl Linnaeus published the Species Plantarum in 1753. In this unique book he described all the plant species known at that time. Linnaeus' binomial system was a success, and was adopted immediately. This system still forms the basis for the naming of flowers and plants. During his life Linnaeus named and classified some 9000 species of flowers and plants.

The name of the Alstroemeria

How did he do that? Take the Alstroemeria, which was discovered high in the mountains by the Swede Carl Alstroemer. People like Alstroemer reported their discoveries to Carl Linnaeus, and provided him with important information. He often thanked them for their help by naming a flower or plant after them. So in this case the flower discovered by Carl Alstroemer was given the name Alstroemeria.

You can still see which flowers and plants were named by Linnaeus. They can be identified by the author label 'L.' (for Linnaeus) after the botanical name. Carl Linnaeus is the only author whose name is abbreviated to just one letter.