Don, Sabine and Others

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In 1832, the plants Douglas collected were named Pinus douglasii (doug-GLASS-ee-eye, after David Douglas) by David Don, an English botanist and librarian for both Lambert and the Linnean Society. Don proposed a name suggested by Joseph Sabine, the secretary of the Horticultural Society. A year later, John Lindley renamed the plant Abies douglasii in the Penny Cyclopaedia, a weekly publication of a few pages of a multi-volume encyclopedia costing only a single English penny per issue. It was with this publication that the common name "Douglas-fir" had its origin, replacing the then frequently used "Oregon pine." Unlike most common names, Douglas-fir would remain consistently applied to the species, while its scientific name, as we shall see, would undergo several changes.

It was not until 1867 that the genus Pseudotsuga was proposed. In his second edition of Traité général des conifères, the French horticulturist Elie-Abel Carrière established Pseudotsuga douglasii, basing his name on Pinus douglasii. This name would remain in use until Nathaniel Lord Britton, the founder of the New York Botanical Garden, proposed Pseudotsuga taxifolia in 1889. Britton suggested, incorrectly according to our modern rules of botanical nomenclature, that Pinus taxifolia (1803) was the first correct name for the tree, inasmuch as Pinus douglasii was proposed in 1832. What Britton failed to note was that Pinus taxifolia, proposed in 1803, was a later homonym, since the very same name was published in 1796. In short, the 1803 species epithet "taxifolia" was not available for Britton to use.

In the documentation of scientific nomenclature, every day counts. It is not known exactly when, in 1832, Don published the third edition of Lambert's A description of the genus Pinus. Rafinesque's Atlantic Journal, wherein he proposed Abies mucronata, was published sometime during September or October of 1832. In 1897, the American forester George Sudworth proposed Pseudotsuga mucronata suggesting that Abies mucronata predated Pinus douglasii. Sudworth abandoned this name the following year and took up Pseudotsuga taxifolia in a slightly modified form. Even so, Charles Sprague Sargent who published a new American silva maintained Pseudotsuga mucronata was the correct name in 1898, and considered Britton's Pseudotsuga taxifolia to be incorrect.