The Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) bears cones with a distinctive three-pointed bract that protrudes prominently above each scale (and is said to resemble the back half of a mouse, with two feet and a tail). Its common and scientific names honor David Douglas and Archibald Menzies, respectively. Photo by Jeanette Stehr-Gree
Douglas (1799-1834) grew up in Scotland and left school at age 11 to become a gardener’s assistant. After completing an apprenticeship, he began work at the Botanical Gardens of Glasgow University and later was selected by the Royal Horticultural Society as a botanical collector. Douglas made three trips to the Pacific Northwest, befriending native peoples, fur trappers, Hudson’s Bay Company employees, and fellow naturalists to collect every plant and animal that he could. His second expedition, beginning in 1826, ranks among the greatest of botanical explorations in history. This expedition is said to have resulted in the introduction of more
than 200 species of plants to Great Britain including the Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western white pine, grand fir and noble fir. Some of these introductions transformed the British landscape and timber industry. It is said that Douglas’ name is attached to more than 80 plant and animal species, some of which he collected or described during his travels and others purely as an acknowledgement of his contributions to botany. Plants bearing his name include the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), smooth Douglasia (Douglasia laevigata), black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), hardhack (Spiraea douglasii), Douglas’ blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium douglasii), Douglas’ knot-
weed (Polygonum douglasii), Douglas’ campion (Silene douglasii), swamp gentian (Gentiana douglasiana), Douglas’ neckera moss (Neckera douglasii), Douglas’ dusty maiden (Chaenactis douglasii), and western water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii). Douglas died at the age of 35 in a tragic accident in Hawaii while climbing Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the big island of Hawaii. These three explorers are just a few of the intrepid, indefatigable collectors who scoured the globe in the 1700s and 1800s, risking their lives in search for new plant and animal species. It is only fitting that we are reminded of their contributions through the many local plants that bear their names. Jeanette Stehr-Green has been a WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardener since 2003. She writes gardening articles for both the Peninsula Daily News and Sequim Gazette and provides presentations for the public on a variety of gardening topics. Stehr-Green and her husband, Paul, have lived on the Olympic Peninsula since 1998 and enjoy hiking and identifying the varied native plants of our region.
Lewis’ monkeyflower (Mimulus lewisii) was among the plants first documented by Meriwether Lewis. Frederick Pursh, the 19th century botanist who identified most of the expedition’s collections, named the species in Lewis’ honor. Photo by Janis Burger (copyright)
12 LOP Winter 2017
Common names of plants are colorful but can vary from place to place. As a result some plants have more than one common name while some common names can refer to more than one plant. This can be confusing. Scientific names, on the other hand, are unique. They are standardized, sometimes through an arduous process (see story on the Naming of the Douglas fir) so that each organism has only one name and the same name is used to refer to the same organism across the entire globe. A plant’s scientific name can change due to newer genetic research or other discoveries, but it can only be changed by international agreement. Scientific names have two parts. The first part is the genus name and is the name given to a group of closely related species that evolved from a common ancestor. It is similar to a person’s family or last name that can be shared by siblings, cousins, and other relatives. For example, the vine maple and the big leaf maple are both members of the genus Acer. The second name is the species name. The species name is like a given or first name, particular to a very specific type of organism. For example, the vine maple is Acer circinatum and the big leaf maple is Acer macrophyllum. Scientific names are usually based on Latin words or words treated as if they were Latin. For example, in scientific names “Menzies” is changed to “menziesii” and “Douglas” is changed to “douglasii.” The scientific name is always written in italics or underlined. The genus name is capitalized; the species name is not.