If you only know one botanical name, this is the one to know; at least for any native of the Pacific Northwest. It is of course the botanical name of our beloved Doug Fir tree. Walk down any street, look out any window and chances are good you can see a Doug Fir tree, at least if you live anywhere on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Certainly if you look into the walls of nearly any home built in the last 150 years you will find lumber cut from Doug Fir trees.
But how did such an important tree get such a complicated and strange name, known to so few people? For the answer we have to go back in time 200 years to when the Pacific Northwest was first being discovered, explored and settled by people who came from east of the mountains, way east of the mountains.
Everyone knows that Lewis and Clark made their journey of discovery in 1802 – 1803, but it was in the early 1790’s that Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy made his 5 year voyage around the world, bringing the naturalist Archibald Menzies along with him as his surgeon. While circumnavigating what is now called Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Menzies in 1791, discovered and described for the first time the tree that now bears his name.
There were however problems (controversy) in classifying the Doug Fir tree, due to it’s similarity to various other conifers that were better known in the early 1800’s. It wasn’t until 1867 that the French botanist “Carriere” placed the Doug Fir into a new genus Pseudotsuga or false hemlock. There are five species in the Pseudotsuga genus, two in western North America, one in Mexico and two in eastern Asia.
But how did the common name Douglas, get attached to Pseudotsuga Menziesii? It was a rival naturalist, David Douglas that in 1827 introduced the Doug Fir into cultivation at Scone Palace, near Edinburg Scotland. David Douglas was another of the many naturalists that were traveling across the wide world at this time in history discovering, describing and naming new species of plants and animals. Douglas died at the age of 35 under mysterious circumstances in Hawaii, but that is a tale for another time.