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Archibald Menzies

discoverer of many plants that now bear his name

Archibald Menzies

Archibald Menzies was born at Easter Styx, Perthshire, Scotland, on March 15, 1754. After receiving his basic education at the local school, Menzies worked as a gardener for Sir Robert Menzies, the clan chief, who was keenly interested in new plants. In 1763 he went to Edinburgh in order to work in the botanical garden of Professor John Hope, who encouraged him to study botany and medicine in Edinburgh, which he did from 1771 to 1780. In 1778 he toured the western Highlands to collect rare plants for two London physicians. After finishing his studies at Edinburgh he became assistant to a surgeon in Caernarvon. In 1782 he entered the Royal Navy as an assistant surgeon. While posted in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he collected a number of botanical specimens that were subsequently sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew Gardens) in London.

In 1786, Menzies was appointed surgeon to the Prince of Wales, commanded by James Colnett, which sailed round Cape Horn to the Pacific coast of North America and to China. He collected a number of new plants on this voyage, and also ensured that none of the crew died of illness.

In 1790, Menzies was appointed as naturalist to accompany Captain George Vancouver on his voyage around the world on HMS Discovery. His job was to investigate the whole of the natural history of the countries visited, enumerate all trees, shrubs, plants, grasses, ferns and mosses by their scientific names as well as the language of the natives, and to ascertain which if any of these plants would thrive if cultivated in Europe. He was also charged with keeping a regular journal of all occurrences, together with a complete collection of specimens of animals, vegetables and minerals, as well as clothes, arms, implements and manufactures of the native peoples. When the ship's surgeon became ill, Menzies took over his duties. In 1794, while wintering in Hawai'i, Menzies and three other crew members made the first recorded ascent of Mauna Loa by Europeans. Menzies used a portable barometer to measure the height of the mountain as 13,564 feet (which proved remarkably close to its true height of 13,679 feet).

After the voyage, Menzies served with the Royal Navy in the West Indies. He received his medical degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1799. After retiring from the Navy he became a doctor and surgeon at Notting Hill, London.

Menzies died in Notting Hill on February 15, 1842.

Menzies's name is commemorated in the scientific names of several of the plants he discovered, including Menziesia, a genus of shrubs in the family Ericaceae, and the Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. Other plants he discovered and/or studied during his voyages included: the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), the California poppy (Eschscholzia californicum), the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), the western white pine (Pinus monticola), the American aspen (Populus tremuloides), the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), and many others.

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This page was last updated on 03/15/2018.