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David Douglas (botanist)

david douglas scottish botanist
David Douglas 25 June 1799 – 12 July 1834 was a Scottish botanist, best known as the namesake of the Douglas fir He worked as a gardener, and explored the Scottish Highlands, North America, and Hawaii, where he died1


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Explorations
  • 3 Legacy
  • 4 Writings
  • 5 Filmography
  • 6 Family
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links

Early lifeedit

Douglas was born in Scone, Perthshire, the second son of John Douglas, a stonemason, and Jean Drummond He attended Kinnoull School and upon leaving found work as an apprentice to William Beattie, head gardener at Scone Palace, the seat of the Earl of Mansfield He spent seven years in this position, completing his apprenticeship, and then spent a winter at a college in Perth to learn more of the scientific and mathematical aspects of plant culture After a further spell of working in Fife during which time he had access to a library of botanical and zoological books he moved to the Botanical Gardens of Glasgow University and attended botany lectures William Jackson Hooker, who was Garden Director and Professor of Botany, was greatly impressed with him and took him on an expedition to the Highlands before recommending him to the Royal Horticultural Society of London2


Douglas made three separate trips from England to North America His first trip, to eastern North America, began on 3 June 1823, with a return in the late autumn of 1823 The second was to the Pacific Northwest, from July 1824 returning October 1827 His third and final trip started in England in October 1829 On that last journey he went first to the Columbia River, then to San Francisco, then in August 1832, to Hawaii October 1832, found him back in the Columbia River region A year later, in October 1833, he returned to Hawaii arriving on 2 January 18343

The second expedition starting in 1824 was his most successful The Royal Horticultural Society4 sent him back on a plant-hunting expedition in the Pacific Northwest that ranks among the great botanical explorations In the Spring of 1826, David Douglas was compelled to climb a peak Mount Brown, of the mythical pair Hooker and Brown near Athabasca Pass to take in the view In so doing, he became the first mountaineer in North America5 He introduced the Douglas-fir into cultivation in 1827 Other notable introductions include Sitka Spruce, Sugar Pine, Western White Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Monterey Pine, Grand Fir, Noble Fir and several other conifers that transformed the British landscape and timber industry, as well as numerous garden shrubs and herbs such as the Flowering currant, Salal, Lupin, Penstemon and California poppy His success was well beyond expectations; in one of his letters to Hooker, he wrote "you will begin to think I manufacture pines at my pleasure" Altogether he introduced about 240 species of plants to Britain

He first briefly visited Hawaii in 1830 on his way to the Pacific Northwest He returned again in December 1833 intending to spend three months of winter there He was only the second European to reach the summit of the Mauna Loa volcano6 He died under mysterious circumstances while climbing Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi at the age of 35 in 18347 He apparently fell into a pit trap and was possibly crushed by a bull that fell into the same trap He was last seen at the hut of Englishman Edward "Ned" Gurney, a bullock hunter and escaped convict Gurney was also suspected in Douglas's death, as Douglas was said to have been carrying more money than Gurney subsequently delivered with the body However, most investigators have concluded that Gurney's account was true8 Douglas was buried in an unmarked common grave near Mission House in Honolulu, Hawaii9 Later, in 1856, a marker was erected on an outside wall at Kawaiahaʻo Church Kawaiahao Church Cemetery A monument was built at the spot where Douglas died by members of the Hilo Burns Society including David McHattie Forbes It is called Ka lua kauka "Doctor's Pit" in the Hawaiian language, off Mānā Road on the Island of Hawaiʻi 19°53′17″N 155°20′17″W / 1988806°N 15533806°W / 1988806; -15533806 Kaluakauka10 A small stand of Douglas-fir trees has been planted there11


Although the common name Douglas-fir refers to him, the tree's scientific name, Pseudotsuga menziesii, honours a rival botanist, Archibald Menzies Several Hawaiian plants were named after him in earlier taxonomies, such as Pandanus tectorius known in Hawaiian as hala, sometimes given the name Pandanus douglasii11 Over eighty species of plant and animal have douglasii in their scientific names, in his honour He introduced several hundred plants to Great Britain and hence to Europe12 There is a memorial to David Douglas in his birthplace of Scone David Douglas High School and the David Douglas School District in Portland, Oregon are named after him Remnants of a greenhouse built by David Douglas can be seen in Wood Street Village, Surrey

In Vancouver, Washington, he is remembered via David Douglas Park which was used during World War II as interim housing for the Kaiser Shipyard workers living in little silver trailers, giving the area the brief nickname during the era of "Trailer Terrace Park"13

The standard author abbreviation Douglas is used to indicate this individual as the author when citing a botanical name14


  • Douglas, David 1914 Journal kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America 1823–1827 : together with a particular description of thirty-three species of American oaks and eighteen species of Pinus, with appendices containing a list of the plants introduced by Douglas and an account of his death in 1834 W Wesley & Son under the direction of the Royal Horticultural Society  Available online through the Washington State Library's Classics in Washington History collection


A documentary film, Finding David Douglas, has recently been completed and tells the story of his life and achievements, to great critical acclaim


David Douglas had a son who was named David Finlay David Finlay, who was recorded as being an interpreter, died in April 1850 at the hands of Black-feet raiders He lived in Montana, an area where Douglas had spent long periods of time over 20 years previously, which would tie in with the age of his son, who died when he was around 22 years old It is not known if David Douglas was aware that he had fathered a child15


  1. ^ "DOUGLAS, DAVID" University of Toronto/Université Laval Retrieved 25 September 2013 
  2. ^ Nisbet 2009, pp 4–6
  3. ^ "Journal of David Douglas, Royal Horticultural Society, 1914, pg 296"
  4. ^ Nisbet 2009, pg 7
  5. ^ "who was david douglas" PDF DavidDouglasSociety Retrieved 23 December 2016 
  6. ^ Walther M Barnard 1991 "Earliest Ascents of Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawai'i" Hawaiian Journal of History Hawaiian Historical Society, Honolulu 25 hdl:10524/599 
  7. ^ Lyman, Sarah Joiner Sarah Joiner Lyman of Hawaii: Her Own StoryEd Margaret Greer Martin Hilo: Lyman Museum, 2009 67–69
  8. ^ Nisbet 2009, pp 246–8
  9. ^ "David Douglas" Find a Grave web site 
  10. ^ US Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Kaluakauka
  11. ^ a b Jean Greenwell 1988 "Kaluakauka Revisited: the Death of David Douglas in Hawaii" Hawaiian Journal of History Hawaiian Historical Society, Honolulu 22: 147–169 hdl:10524/246 
  12. ^ Nisbet 2009, pg 252
  13. ^ Jolotta, Pat Naming Clark County Vancouver: Fort Vancouver Historical Society, 1993 Print p15
  14. ^ IPNI  Douglas 
  15. ^ Nisbet, J 2009, The Collector:David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest, Sasquatch Books 


  • Nisbet, Jack The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest 2009 Sasquatch Books ISBN 1-57061-613-2
  • Harvey, Athelstan George Douglas Of The Fir: A Biography Of David Douglas Botanist 1947 Harvard University Press

External linksedit

  • Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  • Who Killed David Douglas
  • The David Douglas Botanical Garden Society – Prince George BC Canada
  • Family History
  • Works by David Douglas at Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • "Second Journey to the Northwestern Parts of the Continent of North America: During the Years 1829–'30–'31–'32–'33 V Account of Mr Douglas' Second Visit to the Columbia; His Excursions in California" The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 6 1 September 1905 Retrieved 15 April 2013 
  • Finding David Douglas documentary film project

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