Carolus Linnaeus Free Unit Study and STEAM Activity

I have so much fun coordinating art projects with other areas of study. History, literature, math, and science all lend themselves so well to art! (Ok, it’s probably the other way around, but still.)

Carolus Linnaeus Free Unit Study and STEAM Activity

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That’s why I like the new craze about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). I don’t generally go for fads, especially in education, but this one leaves room for so many great studies.

Now, you can find some great ideas on Pinterest about the Engineering and Math facets of this, but there aren’t that many integrating art with other areas of science.

In my opinion, that needs to be rectified. I may not be able to do that all by my lonesome, but this post is a start!

Carolus Linnaeus

Our artist for today’s study, Carolus Linnaeus, was an 18th century Swedish scholar. He is actually better known for his contributions to science than for his artwork.

He was born Carl Linnaeus in Stenbrohult in southern Sweden in 1707. The son of a Lutheran pastor and avid gardener, he grew up with a love for botany.

His parents had hoped he would go into the ministry like his father, but he decided to pursue medicine instead. In the 1700s, medical doctors were also trained in botany, since they often needed to mix medicines from various plants.

Something that he was intensely interested in was taxonomy, or the method of classifying things. At that time, there was no set method of naming or classifying living things. Plants and animals could be known by several different names, and it got really confusing.

Carl Linnaeus: Father of Classification (Great Minds of Science)Carl Linnaeus: Father of Classification (Great Minds of Science)Carl Linnaeus: Genius of Classification (Genius Scientists and Their Genius Ideas)Carl Linnaeus: Genius of Classification (Genius Scientists and Their Genius Ideas)

Linnaeus set out to fix that, writing a series of works that he called Systema Naturae, or the Systems of Nature.

In the 1700s, an era known as the Enlightenment was beginning. This was an age when people let go of the superstitions that were common in the Middle Ages and embraced reason instead.

For some people, reason was a way to explain why they did not need God. For others, reason deepened their faith and understanding of God. Linnaeus was in the second group.

In his preface to one of the later editions of Systema Naturae, he wrote this sentence in Latin: “The earth’s creation is the glory of God, as seen from the works of Nature by Man alone.”

He believed that God created everything in specific ways, and that man can learn much about God by studying his works. The ability to reason is what allows us to do that.

Throughout the past three centuries, some scientists have agreed with Linnaeus, and some have disagreed. Regardless, much of his work in devising a taxonomy (system of classification) for living things is still used throughout the world today!

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of EverythingKarl, Get Out of the Garden!: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of EverythingLinnaeus: The Compleat NaturalistLinnaeus: The Compleat Naturalist

Nature Drawings

Today, if we find an interesting tree or beautiful flower, we can just take a picture of it on our phones. That picture can then be uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, or any number of other sites in minutes and shared with the world.

Back in the 1700s, if people wanted a visual of something they found interesting, they often had to draw it themselves. Because Linnaeus was intensely interested in the plants he studied, he drew a lot of them!

His system of classification took different directions during his life; it was a work in progress for many years. He classified plants based on what he could see and what they did – and to do this, he had to keep detailed notes.

If you look at his drawings, they are very specific. They show the shades of color of the different parts of the plant, the different structures in the leaves, stems, vines, and flowers, and more. Just as today a scientist will take pictures to accompany their notes, Linnaeus made beautiful drawings.

Carl Linnaeus: All You Have to KnowCarl Linnaeus: All You Have to KnowCarl Linnaeus Travels (Nature classics)Carl Linnaeus Travels (Nature classics)

The Flower Clock

Linnaeus’s artwork wasn’t limited to his drawings, though. He also incorporated it into his experiments and projects!

One such project was his ‘flower clock.’ He noticed in his studies over the years that some flowers bloomed at very specific periods each day. Some of them bloomed for one specific hour each day!

By observing these plants, he was able to make an accurate clock made up of flowers. Theoretically, you could actually tell the time by which section of flowers was in bloom!

While this is a really amazing observation (and a beautiful piece of art), there was just one problem: it is not terribly practical. Plants depend on things like amount and direction of the sun as well as the general temperature in order to bloom, and the plants aren’t always native to the same areas.

Even though it was limited, it was still an incredible discovery!

Timeline Activities

Be sure to record Carolus Linnaeus on your Timeline of the Arts! He lived from 1707 to 1778. During his life, many things happened! The French and Indian War lasted from 1754 to 1763, and the American Revolution started in 1775.

Some major composers that lived during Linnaeus’s time included some of the greats: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Haydn, and Brahms. During the early Enlightenment, the worlds of thought and art expanded quickly. So many amazing things happened during Linnaeus’s life!

Nature JournalNature JournalNature Walk JournalNature Walk Journal

Hands-On Activity: Nature Journal

Linnaeus didn’t really have the option of taking a picture of the plants he studied, but his nature journals served another purpose, too. They made him stop and look at the details of what he was studying.

When you see flowers in your yard or trees in the park, it’s easy to just look at them and walk right by. They’re just plants, right? Not so quick!

There are so many details to discover in plants, leaves, bark, and vines. Shapes, sizes, and color patterns are obvious details, but there are more. If you look in the center of different flowers, you will see different structures. The veins of different leaves can be fascinating to study.

Why do some plants have large leaves and others have tiny leaves? Why are the flowers of some plants open and vibrant while others are muted and sort of closed? You can start to find answers to these questions by drawing them. By doing so, you slow down enough to study them!

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around YouKeeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around YouMy Nature Journal~Kids Nature Log/Nature Draw and Write Journal: Draw And Write Nature Journal For Children; 8.5My Nature Journal~Kids Nature Log/Nature Draw and Write Journal: Draw And Write Nature Journal For Children; 8.5

You can pick any notebook, journal, or sketchbook you like for your nature journal. You can also use a piece of watercolor paper, since this will allow you to use different types of paints, pencils, and markers.

To get started, choose a flower or set of leaves that you want to study.

First, draw your subject as a whole. Set it on the desk or table in front of you and sketch what you see, and then color it in. You might find it helpful to take a picture of it and work off of that.

Then, look at the specific parts of the flower or leaves. What shape are they? Are they smooth or rough? Soft or “hairy?” Are they all one color, or do they seem to have different colors that flow into one another?

If you chose to draw a flower, look at it from all different directions. Pick it up and turn it all around, noticing the details of each part of it. Take pictures of these different angles if necessary. Feel free to take it apart, noticing the structure and placement of the petals and different parts. Then, draw what you see!

Crayola Colored Pencils, 50 Count Set, Pre-sharpenedCrayola Colored Pencils, 50 Count Set, Pre-sharpenedSargent Art Premium Coloring Pencils, Pack of 50 Assorted Colors, 22-7251Sargent Art Premium Coloring Pencils, Pack of 50 Assorted Colors, 22-7251Prismacolor Quality Art Set - Premier Colored Pencils 48 Pack, Premier Pencil Sharpener 1 Pack and Latex-Free Scholar Eraser 1 PackPrismacolor Quality Art Set – Premier Colored Pencils 48 Pack, Premier Pencil Sharpener 1 Pack and Latex-Free Scholar Eraser 1 Pack

If you chose to draw a leaf, pay attention to how it is put together. You may wish to make a leaf rubbing in order to record the vein pattern. (To do this, just put the leave under the paper and then color over it gently with a crayon.) Look at it from different directions and angles. What differences do you see? Make sure to draw your observations.

Digital Journal

This can also be done as a digital journal. Imagine what Linnaeus might have added to his drawings if he had a cell phone or digital camera! Make a photojournal or scrapbook of your observations and compare it to your hand-drawn journal. What are the benefits of each?

Additional Resources

Apologia’s Exploring Creation With Botany: If you are working your way through this course, this study is a perfect addition! And if your child decides they really enjoy botany and you need more resources…this book is wonderful.


The Imaginarium of Carl Linnaeus


To help you keep everything organized, I’ve created a printable unit study planner. It’s free to my readers – enjoy!


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