Trees and Plants from the West
Today, the woodlands of the British Isles are largely formed from trees of the Pacific coast of North America, whence come also countless plants that are now common and almost indispensable in the garden. At the beginning of the 19th century parts of the Pacific coast area were extremely wild and inhabited only by a few hunters and lawless Indians. The coastal land had been visited and to some extent surveyed by Captain George Vancouver on his voyage round the world of 1791-95. He had with him, as surgeon, Archibald Menzies, who was also a botanist. From him came the first detailed account of the rich flora of the California coast.
The Horticultural Society of London (now the internationally famous Royal Horticultural Society) was formed in 1807, and its committee felt that a plant-collecting expedition to follow up Menzies’ discoveries would be rewarding.
In 1823 they sent yet another young Scot, David Douglas from Scone, to the eastern United States, but he met with little success. Then in 1824 he sailed for the North Pacific coast — the first of his highly adventurous and often solitary journeys. He brought back the now common mahonia (aquifolium), the snowberry, clarkia, the musk plant, nemophila, the shrubby garrya, the red flowering currant, and the annual, Limnanthes douglasii, which carries his name. The Douglas fir, discovered by Menzies but introduced by Douglas, is now an important British timber tree. Douglas died tragically in Hawaii when only 35 years old, but during his short life he contributed valuable new additions to the ever-growing flora of the British Isles.
In 1840, William Lobb, travelling for the enterprising Exeter firm of nurserymen, Veitch, went to Brazil and Chile. Many of the plants he collected were best suited for cultivation in greenhouses, which, with improved heating, were rapidly becoming popular. To Lobb is owed the monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), for although a few had previously been received in Britain, he collected a large quantity of seed in Chile, from which Veitch raised thousands of plants that sold at a high price. In 1819, Lobb went to California, and worked over the country first covered by David Douglas. The triumph of this trip was his introduction of the California ‘big-tree’, or wellingtonia, which proved to be a sensational success. Lobb also introduced the first.