Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Man Named David Douglas

The Douglas Fir.  Tall.  Ancient.  Majestic.  And abundant.   At least in British Columbia.  But how did this tree get its name?  I'd never thought about it until hiking in Vancouver Island.   I read a sign about David Douglas, a botanist from Scotland, who identified over 200 species of plants in North America from 1827-1833.  The Douglas Fir was named in his honor.  Wow!  I wanted to learn more.


Turns out he wasn't really a botanist in that he wasn't a scientist or even college educated.  He was a gardener.  A very good one!  He helped the head gardener at the 3rd Earl of Mansfield's estate for seven years and then moved to the Botanical Gardens at Glasgow University.   While there, he sat in on lectures.  A botany professor recommended him to the Royal Horticultural Society as someone who knew plants and would make a good "collector".  They sent him on three expeditions.  As far as he was concerned, they had sent him to heaven.  It boggles my imagination. 

He brought back conifers such as the Sitka Spruce, Sugar Pine, Ponderosa Pine and Noble Fir, as well as the mighty Douglas.  He changed the landscape of Britain and introduced a wood that made excellent timber.  A construction boom followed.


This giant Douglas Fir is over 800 years old.  It is the largest tree in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  David Douglas was a lucky man.  He was given an opportunity to travel, explore and bring back knowledge to a thirsty world.  He had 50 plant species and one genus named after him.  Sadly, he died at the young age of 35 while climbing Mauna Kea in Hawaii.  But when a tree that can live to be a 1000 years old is named after you, well . . . that's as close to immortality as you can get.

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