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Flower Power

The great Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, was the first person to grow bananas in Europe. The great man had some odd ideas concerning bananas. He believed, for example, that the forbidden fruit, which led to the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise, was not an apple but a banana, presumably because of the fruitís resemblance to a phallus.

Richard Collins (left) and Matthew Jebb (right), from the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin His is the most frequently cited name in the literature of science. Whenever the Latin name of a plant or an animal appears, the name of the person who first described it is also given. Most of the plants and animals of Europe, and many from elsewhere, were described by him and the name, Linnaeus, has become iconic. The naming system, which he perfected, has proved to be an extraordinarily useful scientific tool.

Derek and Richard embarked on a Linnaean pilgrimage in 2007, visiting Sweden and Holland to make a radio documentary on the great man. Their next port of call was London. Strange as it might seem, Linnaeusí collection of specimens, and almost all of his papers, are there. When he died in 1778, his wife, Sara Lisa Moraea, put the collection up for sale. She had a family to support and, in any case, the specimens were deteriorating and needed to be conserved. The archive was purchased by an Englishman, James Edward Smith, and transported to London. The story that the Swedes sent a gunboat after the ship, in the hope of retrieving the departing treasure, is a colourful myth but there is a whiff of Elgin Marble notoriety about the whole affair. The archive is held at the headquarters of the Linnaean Society in Burlington House off Piccadilly.

The full-length radio documentary, to celebrate the Linnaean tercentenary, will be broadcast as part of a Mooney Goes Wild special on RTÉ Radio 1 at 3 -5pm on New Year's Eve, Monday, December 31st 2007

For more information about Linnaeus, visit the website of Uppsala University in Sweden: www.linnaeus.uu.se/online/life

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