Adam Afzelius (1750 - 1837) - a brief biography

Adam Afzelius - Public Domain image

Born in 1750 in the parsonage at Larv, in the Västergötland province of Sweden, Adam Afzelius studied languages and botany (under Carl Linnaeus, no less) at Uppsala university. He began his working life as a senior lecturer in languages, still at the University of Uppsala in 1777, where he taught both Hebrew and Arabic. In 1785 Afzelius became a demonstrator of botany at the same university.

Very much influenced by Linnaeus (who died in 1778) Afzelius became one of the Linnaeus Apostles, as they are known. Linnaeus inspired 17 of his brightest students to travel the world and to record the nature and culture they found. Some travelled alone; most went as expeditions, and the expeditions across land and sea covered every continent.

In 1789 Afzelius travelled to England, and three years later he set out for the West African Coast, working as a botanist for the Sierra Leone Company; unfortunately, however, due to war and then illness he was forced to return to London empty handed, having lost not only the specimens that he had collected but also the notes that he had made about his finds. Undeterred, Afzelius returned to Sierra Leone in 1794, and for the next two years gather specimens and made notes on the natural history and the culture of the local people. On the return journey a storm destroyed the live plants that he was hoping to bring to England, but Afzelius together with his specimens and notes survived the journey. For the next year or so he worked as secretary of the Swedish Embassy in London until, in 1799, he returned via Norway to his homeland of Sweden; there, in 1812, he was appointed Professor of Materia Medica - still at the university in Uppsala.

Adam Afzelius died in Uppsala in January 1837, three months after his 86th birthday.

The abbreviation Afzel. is used to indicate Adam Afzelius as the author when citing a botanical or mycological name.

Other Positions and Awards

Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

President of the Zoophytolithic Society (later to become The Linnaean Institute)

Major Mycological Works

In addition to his various botanical papers, in 1823 Afzelius published Linnaeus' autobiography, Egenhändiga anteckningar af Carl Linnaeus om sig sjelf

Selected Sources:

The Linnaeus Apostles - Global Science & Adventure (8 Volumes)

Adam Afzelius' travel diary, Sierra Leone Journal 1795 - 1796; ed Peter Kup, Uppsala 1967

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2011

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