Daniel Solander, son of the accomplished amateur scientist Carl Solander, often had his patronymic (Carlson) mistaken for a second given name, Carl or Charles. However, he was named only Daniel. The year of his birth was uncertain until fairly recently and is often given as 1736 in older sources. He was probably educated at home by his father and matriculated at the University of Uppsala in 1850. Thereafter he studied natural history under the famous botanist C. Linnaeus. In 1753 and again in 1755 he collected the unusual flora of the neighbourhood of Piteå (on the north-western shores of the Gulf of Bothnia) and Torneå (on the border with Finland). His specimens went to the Naturhistorika Riksmuseet (State Natural History Museum) in Stockholm. He did not complete his degree at Uppsala, though he edited a booklet entitled Caroli Linnaei elementa botanica (C. Linnaeus's elements of botany; 1856). Contrary to earlier suppositions he does not appear to have qualified in medicine either.
In July 1760 Solander moved to England and learned to speak English. He appears to have promoted acceptance of the Linnaean system of nomenclature in England and became highly regarded as a botanist. In 1763 he was appointed by the British Museum (as assistant librarian it seems) and took on the task of cataloguing its natural history specimens. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1764. In 1767 he met Sir Joseph Banks*, who became his friend and patron, though Solander was both older and better trained in botany than Banks. In August 1768 he accompanied Banks on Captain James Cook's first voyage around the world, in the Endeavour. The expedition travelled via Cape Horn to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus there on 3 June 1769, Solander being one of the observers. They continued in a westerly direction to circumnavigate the world. Near the southernmost tip of New Zealand Cook named an uninhabited rocky island Solander Island. Continuing on to Australia, they were the first Europeans to land on the south-eastern part of that continent, at Botany Bay (where Sydney was later founded), where they collected natural history specimens. On 14 March 1771 the expedition arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and remained there to 14 April. Solander was ill for much of this time, but according to C.P. Thunberg* he nevertheless [with Banks] made "splendid collections" (Brinck, 1955, p. 13).
Upon the expedition's return to England Solander was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) degree by Oxford University and employed by Banks as secretary and librarian. They spent a month in Iceland during 1772 to study its natural history, after which Solander compiled Flora Islandica, being notes on the plants they collected. The next year he was appointed keeper of the natural history collections of the British Museum, a position he held to his death in 1782. There he prepared lists of the species collected by him and Banks, with short descriptions of species considered to be new. His manuscript Index Plantarum Capensium lists 369 species collected at the Cape. He also compiled manuscript floras of Madeira, Java, eastern Australia, New Zealand and Tierra del Fuego, as well as more comprehensive works entitled Florula Orientalis and Florula Capensis which contained complete lists of the plant species then known from these regions. These manuscripts are in the British Museum, but were not published, perhaps because of his untimely death. Other authors have used these works, sometimes without acknowledgement. However, Illustrations of Australian plants, by Banks and Solander, based on their collection at Botany Bay in 1770, was published in London during 1900-1905. Solander also compiled zoological manuscripts at the British Museum, containing lists and descriptions of the animals observed and collected during all Captain Cook's expedition between 1768 and 1780, but these were not published either.
Solander was primarily a botanist, though he was also accomplished in zoology and was meticulous and skillful in his observations and descriptions. His main contribution to botany was made in the systematic description and classification of plants, though he published little of this work himself. He was responsible for most of the scientific content of the first edition of Hortus Kewensis, but was not recognised in the publication. His most important work (with Banks), Florilegium, was interrupted by his death (probably as a result of a stroke) and only published in the 1980's. He was a convivial person and an active correspondent. The plant genus Solandra was named in his honour, as was the South African marine mollusc Standella solanderi. He is further commemorated in the Solander case, which he invented. The specimens that he and Banks collected at the Cape were presented to the British Museum.