David Don was born on 21 December 1799 at Doo Hillock, Forfar, Angus, Scotland. He was the younger brother of George Don, also a botanist, their father being George Don of Forfar and his wife Caroline Clementina Stuart. George Don (senior) was for a long time Curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Leith Walk, Edinburgh. David was Professor of Botany at King's College London from 1836 to 1841, and librarian at the Linnean Society of London from 1822 to 1841.
He described several of the major conifers discovered in the period, including first descriptions of Coast Redwood (Taxodium sempervirens D. Don; now Sequoia sempervirens (D. Don) Endl.), Bristlecone Fir (Pinus bracteata D. Don, now Abies bracteata (D. Don) A. Poit.), Grand Fir (Pinus grandis Douglas ex D. Don; now Abies grandis (Douglas ex D. Don) Lindl.) and Coulter Pine (Pinus coulteri D. Don), and was the first to treat Sugi (Cupressus japonica Thunb.; now Cryptomeria japonica (Thunb.) D. Don) in a new genus.
David Don was librarian to the botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert and compiled for him, Prodromus florae nepalensis ... London, J. Gale, 1825, based on collections made by the botanists Francis Hamilton and Nathaniel Wallich of the Calcutta Botanic Garden.
In 1938 the London County Council marked Don at 32 Soho Square with a rectangular stone plaque, commemorating him as well as botanists Joseph Banks and Robert Brown and meetings of the Linnean Society.
- Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1888). "Don, David". Dictionary of National Biography 15. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- "BANKS, SIR JOSEPH (1743-1820), BROWN, ROBERT (1773-1858), DON, DAVID (1800-1841)". English Heritage. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- "Author Query for 'D.Don'". International Plant Names Index.