Sunday, 5 July 2020

HEROES, VILLAINS AND TYRANTS

Villains, tyrants and heroes alike are all immortalized in the scientific literature as researchers don each new species a unique scientific name. 

If you pick through the literature, it's a whose who of monied explorers literally making a name for themselves, sometimes at great cost to their rivals. This truth plays out on British Columbia's West Coast and gulf islands. And on Hornby Island, in particular.

Hornby is a very green island, both in the practices of those who live here and in the mixed forest that covers the land. We see the large conifers, Western red cedar, western hemlock, grand fir and lodgepole pine on the island. You also see lovely examples of the smaller Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, a small evergreen that is used by First Nations carvers for bows and paddles for canoes.

Many spectacular specimens of arbutus, Arbutus menziesii, grow along the water's edge. These lovely evergreens have a rich orange-red bark that peels away in thin sheets, leaving a greenish, silvery smooth appearance and a satiny sheen. Arbutus, the broadleaf evergreen species is the tree I most strongly associate with Hornby. Hornby has its fair share of broadleaf deciduous trees. Bigleaf maple, red alder, black cottonwood, Pacific flowering dogwood, cascara and several species of willow thrive here.

There are populations of Garry oak, Quercus garryana, with their deeply lobed leaves, on the southern end of the island and at Helliwell Provincial Park on a rocky headland at the northeast end of Hornby. Only about 260 acres (1.1 km2) of undisturbed stands of older forests have been identified on Hornby. They amount to roughly 3.5% of the island's area. There are roughly 1,330 acres (540 ha) of older second-growth stands on the island, which is roughly 19% of the island.

Most of the trees you see on the island are Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, an evergreen conifer species in the pine family. The common name is a nod to the Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who collected and first reported on this large evergreen.

George Vancouver's Commission to Lieutenant
Sadly for Douglas, it is Archibald Menzies, a Scottish physician, botanist, naturalist — and David's arch-rival, whose name is commemorated for science. 

He's also credited with the scientific name for our lovely arbutus trees. Menzies was part of the Vancouver Expedition (1791–1795) a four-and-a-half-year voyage of exploration commanded by Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy.

Their voyage built on the work of James Cook. Cook was arguably the first ship's captain to ensure his crew remained scurvy free by implementing a practice of nutritious meals — those containing ascorbic acid also known as Vitamin C — and meticulous standards for onboard hygiene. 

Though he did much to lower the mortality rate amongst his crew, he made some terrible decisions that led to his early demise. Cook was attacked and killed in 1779 during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific while attempting to kidnap the Island of Hawaii's monarch, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.

During the four and a half year Vancouver Expedition voyage, the crew and officers bickered amongst themselves, circumnavigated the globe, touching down on five continents. Little did they know, for many of them it would be the last voyage they would ever take. The expedition returned to a Britain more interested in its ongoing war than in Pacific explorations. Vancouver was attacked by the politically well-connected Menzies for various slights, then challenged to a duel by Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron of Camelford.

The fellow for whom the fair city of Vancouver is named never did complete his massive cartographical work. With health failing and nerves eroded, he lost the dual and his life. It was Peter Puget, whose name adorns Puget Sound, who completed Vancouver's — and arguably Cook's work on the mapping of our world.

If you'd like to explore more of the history of eponymous naming from Linnaeus to Darwin, to Bowie himself, take a boo at a new book from Stephen B. Heard, "Charles Darwin's Barnacle and David Bowie's Spider. It's fresh off the press this month and chock full of historical and pop-culture icons.

References: The City of Vancouver Archives has three George Vancouver documents:
  • The Commission, dated July 10, 1783, appointing him fourth Lieutenant of the HMS Fame (this is the official document confirming a field commission given to him May 7, 1782)
  • A letter to James Sykes (a Navy Agent in London) written from the ship Discovery (not the same Discovery used by Cook) while in Nootka Sound near the end of Vancouver’s exploration of the West Coast, October 2, 1794. Vancouver states that they have determined that the Northwest Passage does not exist, which was one of the main goals of his voyage
  • A letter to James Sykes written from Vancouver’s home in Petersham, England, after his voyage, October 26, 1797