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David Douglas










David Douglas (25 June 1799 – 12 July 1834) was a Scottish botanist. He worked as a gardener, and explored the Scottish Highlands, North America, and Hawaii, where he died.

The son of John Douglas, a stonemason, and Jean Drummond, he was born in the village of Scone, north-east of Perth, Scotland. He attended Kinnoull School and upon leaving he found work as an apprentice to William Beattie, head gardener at the estate of the 3rd Earl of Mansfield at Scone Palace. He spent seven years at 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 at the University of Glasgow. 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 London.

Hooker recommended Douglas to London's Royal Horticultural Society, which then sent him on a plant-hunting expedition in the Pacific Northwest in 1824 that ranks among the great botanical explorations of a heroic generation. In the Spring of 1826, David Douglas was compelled to climb a peak (Mt. 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 America. 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 volcano. He died under mysterious circumstances while climbing Mauna Kea in Hawaiʻi at the age of 35 in 1834. 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 true.[5] Douglas was buried in an unmarked common grave near Mission House in Honolulu, Hawaii.[6] Later, in 1856, a marker was erected on an outside wall at Kawaiahaʻo Church. 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. A small stand of Douglas-fir trees have been planted there.

Although the common name Douglas-fir refers to him, the tree's scientific name, Pseudotsuga menziesii, honors 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 douglasii. 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 Europe.

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."

He was buried at Kawaiahao Church Cemetery.  There is a memorial to David Douglas in his birthplace of Scone, at the Old Church. David Douglas High School and the David Douglas School District in Portland, Oregon are named after him.




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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024