To discover new species
In the 18th century the pupils of Linnaeus travelled to discover the world. They collected plants and animals from the far corners of the world. This was a time when many new species were described, not least by Linnaeus. In total 20 000 species were known to science at that time, today we know about 1 413 000 species of all kinds of organisms.
Is there anything left to discover? The fact is that the scientists of today describe new species all the time.
Most new species are found in the tropics. Many are already known to the local people but not to science and they lack scientific names.
In other areas it is also possible to find new species, but then in less investigated groups of organisms, for instance fungi.
The pupils of Linnaeus explored the world
Linnaeus was very popular among the students in Uppsala, and he inspired many to follow his path. Much was still to discover in Sweden, but expeditions abroad were arranged as well. New discoveries waited for those daring to travel.
Linnaeus sent several of his pupils to different countries and continents. Some travelled with the ships of the East India Company. Linnaeus was very enthusiastic about his students' journeys and he called them his apostles. He eagerly waited for them to send home plants and animals to him. Most of his pupils had a plant genus named after them and they are in this way immortal.
The journeys of Linnaeus pupils gave important contributions to the knowledge about the biology and geography of the world. Not all of them survived however. In the tropical countries they caught malaria and other diseases. Seven of Linnaeus’ apostles never returned.
New species in the Flora of Somalia
Somalia is situated in Northeast Africa. The plants of this country have remained more or less unknown to science for a long time. During the years 1988 to 2006 a first Flora of Somalia was produced in a project led by Mats Thulin at Uppsala University. It was published in four volumes and comprises a total of nearly 3200 species, about 800 of which are not known anywhere else. During the course of the project, 400 species of plants new to science have been described.
Linnaeus sent his pupils to all corners of the world, but none of them travelled to Somalia. It would last until 64 years after Linnaeus’ death before the first plant specimen was collected from Somalia, and the first attempt to a list of the plants in the country was not compiled until late in the 20th century.
Somalia is an arid country with much semi-desert vegetation and vast plains, but there are also beautiful mountains and endless sea-shores. In any case, there is a rich flora with many interesting plants, many of which with vernacular names in Somali. The most famous plants of the country are the myrrh and frankincense trees, from which resin has been collected and used as medicine or incense for thousands of years. The scientists who worked with the flora have been able to show which the tree species are that produce myrrh and incense and in which parts of the country they grow.
Until recently, it was mostly foreign scientists who explored the plant world of Somalia, but through the Flora project and other projects, also Somali botanists have been trained. Since long, it has been difficult to work and travel in Somalia, but the botanical work continues. Still, new species of plants are described from the country every year.