Linnaeus grows bananas and needs a modern thermometer

George Clifford was a rich financier with a great interest in horticulture and exotic animals. At his country house Hartecamp he had founded a botanical and zoological centre that Linnaeus was to be responsible for.

Linnaeus wrote several books at Hartecamp

Jan Wandelaar's frontispiece from the book Hortus
Cliffortianus by Linnaeus (1737). The Greek god
bringing light to the ignorant world with his torch
has the face of Linnaeus!
Uppsala University Library collections.

Soon Linnaeus wrote a book about Hartecamp "Hortus Cliffortianus" where he points out that the garden was "Nature's masterpiece, strengthened by Art" and that there were "avenues, flowerbeds, statues, ponds and artificial hills and labyrinths". The zoological part was "full of tigers, apes, wild dogs, Indian deer and goats, South American and African pigs". Moreover there were masses of birds, "the garden echoing with their cries." In the hothouse were so many strange plants that, wrote Linnaeus, "I was astounded when I entered the conservatories so full of manifold plants that a son of the North must feel enchanted and confused as to which foreign part of the world he had been transported to."

Thanks to Clifford's friendliness and generosity as well as the perfect working conditions Linnaeus had the time of his life. He also had ample opportunity for his own writing and during the course of one single year (Linnaeus stayed at Hartecamp for two years) he wrote 1850 pages. The year was 1737 and the books were: Critica Botanica, Flora Lapponica, Genera Plantarum and Hortus Cliffortianus.

Hortus Cliffortianus – the book about George Clifford's garde

Hortus Cliffortianus is about George Clifford's garden with plates illustrating the plants by Georg Dionys Ehret, the foremost flower painter of that day. However, the beautiful frontispiece (see plate 1) at the beginning of Hortus Cliffortianus is by J. Wandelaar and contains many more interesting details than those we show here.
As an example, a Greek god is shown trampling a dragon and enlightening the ignorant world with his torch. The face of the god is that of Linnaeus and the dragon may be a reference to a well-known many-headed hydra at Hamburg. Behind this god a banana plant may be seen (plate 2) and there was one in Clifford's hothouse.

Linnaeus harvest the first banana in Holland

Banana plant, Musa paradisiaca L.,
part of the same frontispiece above

As yet, very few in Europe had succeeded in getting the banana to flower, not even the famous botanist Antoine Jussieu in Paris. Within four months Linnaeus succeeded in making the banana plant at Hartecamp flower and after that also to bear fruit. He sent a banana to Jussieu who was deeply impressed.

When he had to choose a scientific name for the banana Linnaeus recalled the old notion that the banana was the forbidden fruit of Paradise. In other words, it was a banana that Eve offered Adam in the garden of Eden! The scientific name is thus Musa paradisiaca.

Jouneys to England and France

Linnaeus went to England at Clifford's request to obtain plants for Hartecamp. Eventually he also went to France. During these trips he visited several well-known scientists. Some received him with great respect, others were more wary. Linnaeus’ considerable self-confidence and egocentricity annoyed some people.

Hartecamp of today

Hartecamp, of today where Linnaeus lived for two years.
Photo: Jesper Kårehed

Today Hartecamp has been turned into a mental hospital. However the beautiful main building that Linnaeus knew is still there, as are parts of the greenhouses and the ponds for water-fowl. There is a bust of Linnaeus in the park and many of the trees are said to have been planted by him.

Last modified: 2022-03-08