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David Douglas
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David Douglas

David Douglas (1799 - 1834) was a Scottish botanist. The son of a stonemason he was born in the village of Scone north-west of Perth. He attended Kinnoul School and upon leaving he found work as an apprentice gardener in the estate of the 3rd Earl of Mansfield at Scone Palace. Seven years were spent in this position before he left to attend 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 and attended botany lectures at the University of Glasgow. The 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.

On behalf of Sir William Hooker of the RHS, the resourceful and intrepid Douglas undertook a plant-hunting expedition in the Pacific Northwest in 1824 that ranks among the great botanical explorations of a heroic generation. The Douglas-fir, which he introduced into cultivation in 1827, is named after him. 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 died in Hawaii at age 35 when he fell into a pit trap and was trampled by a wild bull.