David Douglas and the Douglas-Fir

Jul 1, 2005

Douglas-fir trees grow abundantly in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Its wood, one of the hardest softwoods, is a favorite framing timber, while appearance grade lumber makes handsome finish work. The tree is significant to the Northwest economy, but what of the man for whom the tree was named?

David Douglas was a Scottish botanist who made two expeditions to the Pacific Northwest between 1824 and 1833. From his base at the Columbia River he collected plant specimens from regions to the north, east, and south into California. Douglas covered vast areas in his explorations and experienced hardships through hunger, exposure, and fatigue. When his canoe overturned, he lost scientific instruments, journals, and 400 plant specimens, including redwood samples collected from the Northern California coast.

He had many dealings with Indians, usually peaceful, sometimes not. While collecting sugar pine cones south of present-day Roseburg, Oregon, he enlisted native help, but feeling unsafe, took off in the opposite direction with the few samples he had as the Indians went looking for more.

By sending seeds back to Britain for study and propagation, Douglas introduced more than 240 new plant species in his homeland. Because of David Douglas, once denuded Great Britain is now reforested with northwest conifers, including the Douglas-fir.

Today's episode of As It Was was written by Dawna Curler, the program engineer is Raymond Scully.  I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.  To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org

Sources:
Todt, Donn L. and Nan Hannon. "Sugar Pines: Giant Princes of the Forest," Southern Oregon Heritage Today, October 2000, Vol. 2, No. 10, p.14; Website of Western Wood Products Association, "Douglas Fir & Western Larch," http://www.wwpa.org/dfir.htmhttp://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/HCOV-4UFP34