Oregon Focus: People to Know: David Douglas

About David Douglas

drawing of David Douglas
Botanist David Douglas described numerous plant species in the Pacific Northwest.
David Douglas was born in Perthshire, Scotland in 1798. He was a botanist of some note in England and made several trips to the Pacific Coast to explore the new found flora and fauna.
In 1824 the 25-year-old botanist was sent by the Royal Horticultural Society of London to the Pacific Northwest. He made his headquarters at Fort Vancouver. In Oregon he traveled in the Willamette Valley, down the Umpqua and McKenzie Rivers and along the coast in the Coos Bay area.
Douglas suffered many of the hardships of the pioneers, although he often was safe in wandering alone among the Native Americans because of their respect of his knowledge of flowers and trees.
During his travels he discovered more than 50 species of trees, including the Douglas-fir and sugar pine and more than 100 kinds of shrubs, ferns, and other plants. He collected seeds and specimens as he traveled, but often lost whole or parts of the collections when his canoe overturned or rain spoiled them. He noted his difficulties as a collector in his journals. On June 16, 1826, he wrote, "Last night I was much annoyed by a herd of rats which devoured every particle of seed I had collected, cut a bundle of dry plants almost right through, carried off my razor and soap brush."
Another time he relates that he was trying to find the kind of pine trees from which the local Native Americans were eating seeds like nuts (it was the sugar pine). When at last he found a good stand of sugar pine, he gathered a fine collection of cones. Some Native Americans who were unfamiliar with him appeared. Douglas wrote, "I put myself in possession of a great number of perfect cones, but circumstances obliged me to leave the ground hastily with only three; a party of eight Indians endeavored to destroy me."
He met with an unfortunate end at an early age when he was traveling in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. He fell into a pit made by the natives to trap wild cattle, and was gored to death by a wild bull that had been trapped there.
David Douglas is well remembered in Oregon for the Douglas-fir and the Douglas maple.

Suggestions for Teachers

long pinecone
A cone from a sugar pine tree, one of more than 50 tree species discovered by David Douglas during his mid-1820s work in the Pacific Northwest.
Ask students to:
Make a map of Douglas' travels in Oregon.
Discuss the concept of the elapse of time in years. How long ago did Douglas travel? When did he explore Oregon? Relate this to the ages of grandparents, parents, and themselves. How many years does a Douglas-fir or sugar pine live?
Draw a timeline -- horizontal and vertical -- to help develop the concept of time.
Invite an expert on forest plant life to speak to the class.
Take a field trip to a commercial forest.
Learn about species that Douglas identified.