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.
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. Douglas was buried in an unmarked
common grave near Mission House in Honolulu, Hawaii. 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.
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."
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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