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Knowledgebase record #40

David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work by Jack Nisbet, 2012

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2013-07-01

David Douglas book jacketJack Nisbet's first book about David Douglas ("The Collector" from 2009) was a very popular, journal-like life chronology of the intrepid plant explorer. The enthusiastic response led the author to realize "...I had only begun to touch the dynamic worlds he [Douglas] saw. So I went back on the trail, revisiting places he had described, checking on species of flora and fauna he had collected, following any lead that might reveal additional facets of his career and character."

The result is a new book, "David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work." Instead of a year-by-year account, this is a delightful collection of essays that explores themes as they played out over Douglas's entire, all-too-short career. Several chapters explore the different groups of people he worked or lived amongst including Native Americans, fur traders, sea farers, and members of the scientific community in England and North America. He did his best to fit in with all and this may explain much of his success as a collector--his eager personality encouraged others to share their knowledge or provide help with explorations.

This new book also incorporates observations from current day researchers that are influenced by Douglas almost two centuries later. For example, he was very enamored with the Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) and the communities it formed in the Pacific Northwest. Present day biologist Peter Dunwiddie has tried to understand why these communities are so rare today. While Dunwiddie concludes there are several factors, the most important is "...the way Native Americans throughout the region systematically set fire to these open oak woodlands," a practice that did not continue after the early 19th century.

Excerpted from the Summer 2013 Arboretum Bulletin.

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