David Douglas

David Douglas was born in 1799 at Scone and went to school at Bridgend., as he got kicked out of his first school. There’s a plaque on the wall next to the Isle of Skye Hotel commemorating the life of this son of Perth. He worked for the Earl of Mansfield as an apprentice, and it appears his abilities were soon recognised as he journeyed at an early age to a garden in Fife, and later to Glasgow Royal Botanic Garden.

He was chosen by the Horticultural Society ( now Royal ) to collect plants and specimens of interest from America. He boarded the Ann Maria bound for New York at Liverpool on 5th June 1823, only to find the tide was too low for them to move so he took the opportunity to botanise on land for the day! What a man! Eventually weighed anchor on the 6th and made the journey across the Atlantic to Long Island which was sighted on 31st of June, where he spent the next 5 months collecting plants and sending specimens back to the Horticultural society in London.

The woodland landscape of Perthshire today is partly as a result of Douglas and other botanists sending home conifers from far flung places of the World. Of particular interest to appletreeman is his interest in vegetables and the orchards of the New World.

One of his first observations was the orchards on Long Island! He went to the Vegetable Market, The Fulton, on the 10th and observed an immense variety of plums, and early damsons. Also an abundant supply of pears, peaches and apples. On the 12th he crossed the Hudson to see more fruit orchards, including a Dutchman with 20 acres of peaches and 24 varieties! This man grew rootstocks from seed and budded them in August just like we do today!

David was impressed with Plum Washington which Dr Hossack procured for him. At Burlington on the 20th, David met W. Coxe, who was busy with a cider harvest! On the 23rd he visited Philladelphia’s market, which he thought better than New York’s.

Mr Hogg looked after many of the plants he procured on his travels. He put some osage apples in spirits. Back near New York on the 2nd Sept he saw some Seckel Pears, and an Isabella Grape 75 feet long. He visited West Point and observed more fruit, and then boarded the Richmond steamboat to Albany. What did he do first..yeah visited the Veg Market!

On the way to Little Falls he observed cider presses and orchards everywhere. Mostly apples and a few varieties of plums. He found a place called Caledonia and full of Scots! On the River Detroit he found a wild pears growing and in the old French settlements he saw 8 to 10 varieties of apples called red, white and black. Also pears, probably brought in from France by the immigrants in the previous century.

He found a large and tasty crab apple near Amherstburg. Is this the place Patrick Sinclair set up? He planted an orchard there apparently to supply his troops.

It was at this point that David’s assistant ran off with his stuff when he was up a tree, and when he got down he couldnt control the horse because he couldnt speak French! You couldn’t make it up. He then worked his way to Niagara and Canada, and found the ‘Pound Pear’ being grown. Also Magnum Bonum Plum (egg plum), Blue Orleans and Washington. Also Black Prince and Hamburgh vines.  Then to Rochester and Albany and observed more vines, White Sweet Water, Grizzly Fontignan and Malmsey. Apples and Pears but Plums faring better.

On his travels in Burlington, he got two bottles of cider, one made from wine-sop, the other Virginian Crab apple. On Nov. 14th he went to another veg market (Amboy?), searching for unusual varieties.  On the 12th december he boarded the Nimrod, bound for Great Britain. He had quail, pigeons and ducks ( who were sea-sick), as well as his plants and specimens!

What a rampage he had in the Eastern States of the US!

References: The Plant Hunters , by Charles Lyte, Orbis, 1983 and Journal of David Douglas originally published in 1914 by William Wesley and Son, London.

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