by Duncan Bell
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Field Botanist
Several years ago Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) teamed up with the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) through a contract grant from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to do rare plant surveys across California deserts as part of the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt (RPTH) program. Last year marked the third year for RPTH, a program created and named by Josie Crowford of CNPS.
It is largely a citizen-science program with the goal of getting volunteers out in the field to experience California wild places and assist in rare plant surveys. These surveys largely target rare plant populations that haven’t been revisited in more than 20 years in order to evaluate the current status of these populations.
Many people may be under the impression that the desert is nothing rocks, lizards and an occasional spiny plant—an open wasteland to be crossed to get to Las Vegas or Lake Havasu. But California deserts hold more than 35 percent of the flora of California and have some of the areas of highest diversity for the state. There are many botanically unexplored mountain ranges and valleys out there. In 2012 alone, there were five plant species found in California deserts new to science described by RSABG scientists and researchers.
The Rare Plant Treasure Hunt program largely focuses on the California deserts often associated with the development of renewable energy projects. There are currently thousands of acres proposed for possible development, of which a great deal has had little botanical exploration.
It is the goal of the RPTH program to get volunteers out to these places to experience them first hand and to educate others on California’s diverse flora and the importance of its conservation.
Volunteers from the Sierra Club, the Desert Survivors Organizations, HabitatWorks, The Wildlands Conservancy, CNPS chapters and subchapters from across California have often participated with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt. But many volunteers were not affiliated with any particular organization, but were just interested in joining the group to explore and learn about the desert and to have a personal experience with these wild places while doing so.
The spring field season in 2012 was one of the driest years on record for the California deserts; most areas got only 0.01 millimeters of rain or absolutely no rain at all. Watching the doppler in the winter of 2011-12 was often like watching a blank screen as there was so little weather action. Watching the weather stations and dopplers frequently helps plant scientists predict which areas may have germination or bloom. But even in dry years, the desert rarely disappoints and almost every area visited had at least one rare plant population if not dozens.
The summer field season seemed to the opposite as some parts of the California deserts received the most summer rain they have received in more than a decade. The eastern Mojave in particular had an amazing summer bloom and RSABG/RPTH participants were able to document around 100 rare plant populations on just a few trips.
A total of 24 trips were made in 2012. These trips ranged from day trips to three-day excursions into very remote places. We started in March at below sea level around the Salton Sea, topped out on Southern California’s highest peak on Mount San Gorgonio at 11,500 feet in July, and then headed back down to the lower elevations following the summer monsoonal storms in September. We documented around 300 rare plant populations. Many of these were newly documented. We trekked into the Panamint Mountains and found the type locality of the Panamint daisy (Enceliopsis covillei), which is the plant that has always adorned, and will continue to adorn, the CNPS logo; this population had not been revisited since Frederick Coville made the first collection of this plant in 1891 on the Death Valley expedition. The new species was later named for him. We found the first population of Abrams spurge (Chamaesyce abramsiana) in Imperial County in 100 years; all historic populations from Imperial County are likely extirpated due to development and agriculture. We documented many range extensions of rare plants, locating populations where they had never been found before. We provided information that aided in the evaluation of plant species for the CNPS inventory, including information about its abundance (or lack thereof!) in California and about threats to historic occurrences of a given species. We had many wonderful treks into some amazing places and spent many nights under star filled skies. All in all, it was a very successful and productive year.
If you would like to learn more about the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt program please visit the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Website.
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden 2013 Family Bird Fest results have been tabulated and submitted!
These results were recorded during Family Bird Fest on Feb. 17, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden volunteers, staff and visitors and Pomona Valley Audubon Society members helped gather the data. More information about the Great Backyard Bird Count can be found here.
Total species: 41
Canada Goose 30 (flying overhead)
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper's Hawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 3
Rock Pigeon 2
Band-tailed Pigeon 17
Mourning Dove 39
Anna's Hummingbird 43
Rufous Hummingbird 2
Allen's Hummingbird 3
Acorn Woodpecker 9
Nuttall's Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 7
Black Phoebe 13
Cassin's Kingbird 1
Steller's Jay 1
Western Scrub-Jay 57
American Crow 7
Mountain Chickadee 4
Oak Titmouse 6
Bewick's Wren 13
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
Hermit Thrush 2
Northern Mockingbird 3
California Thrasher 10
Yellow-rumped Warbler 15
Spotted Towhee 27
California Towhee 46
Chipping Sparrow 23
Song Sparrow 3
Lincoln's Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 14
Dark-eyed Junco 34
House Finch 28
Lesser Goldfinch 26
American Goldfinch 4
Spring Hours at Grow Native Nursery
February through May
Grow Native Nursery Claremont
Wednesday through Saturday 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Grow Native Nursery in the Veterans Garden
Wednesday through Saturday 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Read more about Grow Native Nursery, a nonprofit nursery open to the public dedicated to California native plants.
Jeffery Morawetz, RSABG postdoctoral fellow, recently returned from a trip to Africa. He offers us this glimpse into his travels and research findings.
I recently returned from a month-long field trip to Katanga Province in the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which was funded by my National Geographic Society grant. My colleague on my National Science Foundation grant, Christopher Randle (Sam Houston State University), came with me. We met up with our colleague Edouard Ilunga (Ph.D. student, University of Lubumbashi), and he accompanied us for the entire time. We had many adventures together, and traveled widely throughout southern Katanga, from the frontier town of Dilolo in the west (bordering Angola) to Kundelungu National Park in the east (which boasts Africa’s tallest waterfall, Lofoi falls, at 347 meters). Most areas where we worked were either damp to inundated grasslands (called dambos, or dilungus), or miombo woodland, which is dominated by species of the legume tree Brachystegia (a common habitat type found in southern Africa).
Our goal was to collect the rare and endemic parasitic members of the family Orobanchaceae, and we were quite successful. We found the monotypic (meaning it is a genus with only a single species) Micrargeriella aphylla, and in a locality where it was not previously known (Kundelungu National Park). We also collected Gerardiina angolensis, which I’ve been hunting in eastern and southern Africa for years (unsuccessfully until now). Additionally, we collected two Central African endemic species of Melasma, a genus I studied for my dissertation (M. brevipedicellatum, M calycinum). I didn’t believe that one of the species really existed, as its description is not very different from its close relative, but sure enough, when we found them in the field, they are quite distinct. And they were very striking with their bright orange flowers, something only rarely mentioned in the literature. We were also able to collect species of the genera Buchnera, Sopubia and Striga.
In addition to all the great plants, we also ate some really great food called mbuzi michopo (roasted goat). It’s similar to the mbuzi choma of East Africa, but often cooked with onions and chopped kwanga (manioc/cassava). The starchy staple in Katanga is corn-based and called foufou (similar to ugali of East Africa, or nshima of Zambia), though it is different from the West African foufou typically made of cassava.
Most everyone in Congo speaks the national language, French (a hold-over from the Belgian colonial period). In Katanga, people also speak the regional language, Swahili. I was surprised to find that Congolese Swahili is quite different from East African Swahili. Notably, there is much French (and other Congolese regional languages, such as Lingala) woven in, and some word usage and pronunciation has been changed. While I could understand their Swahili, many Congolese had difficulty understanding my East African Swahili.
I will be going back to work with Edouard again in March. I look forward to more plant hunting in such a wonderful country and eating more mbuzi michopo.
Lucinda McDade, Judith B. Friend Director of Research at RSABG and chair of the Claremont Graduate University Department of Botany, was a featured speaker at Biodiversity: from Evolutionary Origins to Ecosystems Function. The bicentennial symposium held in October 2012 celebrated the 200th anniversary of research at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
McDade spoke about the unanticipated uses of museum specimens (including plant specimens). From use of the Lewis and Clark plants to document the chemistry of the atmosphere above the Great Plains in the early 1800s to use of olive leaves in a funerary wreath from King Tut’s tomb along with more recently collected herbarium specimens to document the response of plants to changing carbon dioxide levels, McDade conveyed the message that museum specimens are rich sources of data that will be relied upon to address scientific and societal questions in the future.
In 2011, a panel from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources visited Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden as part of a state-wide research trip for the Center for Plant Conservation’s publication Dancing with Extinction, a special edition of Plant Conservation, the newsletter of Center for Plant Conservation (CPC).
California is the nation’s second top hotspot for critically imperiled plant diversity (only Hawaii has a more endangered flora). As a charter member of CPC and a major player in the conservation of California plants, RSABG’s efforts to document and preserve the remarkable flora of California were highlighted in Dancing with Extinction.
You can download a PDF copy of the special edition on the CPC website.
Veteran Training Program
The West Los Angeles nursery enables Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden to help train veterans on the propagation, care and maintenance of California native plants and offer beautiful native plants to L.A. gardeners.The 12-acre garden and nursery, located on the grounds of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS) was established in 1989 as part of the VA’s Horticulture Therapy Program, a work therapy program to assist veterans making the transition back to civilian employment.
Grow Native Nursery in the Veterans Garden staff collaborates with the VAGLAHS to train veterans on the propagation, care and maintenance of California native plants and offers nursery sales to the public. The site has historically been known as the Veterans Garden and has served veterans over the years through a variety of projects such as growing micro-greens for local restaurants and cut flowers for local florists.
Working with the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy Program (CWT), Grow Native Nursery offers a new focus on native flora of the state as well as sustainable landscaping and gardening practices. Vets completing the program will have a competitive edge in the job market as they compete for green and environmental jobs.
The nursery expands RSABG outreach to make California native plants more available to home gardeners, landscape contractors in the San Fernando Valley and the coastal cities. It also enables us to be able to propagate native plants that thrive in coastal conditions.
Dudleya Crassulaceae family
Dudleya is a large genus of about 40 species, many of which are native to California and northern Mexico. Only a handful are common in cultivation and many are on the endangered species list.
At one time Dudleyas were included in the Echecveria genus, which includes the popular garden plant Echeveria ‘Imbricata’ (Hen and Chicks). Like Echeveria, Dudleyas are rosette-forming succulents and are generally silvery green.
However there are distinctions in their flowers. Dudlyea flowers arise near the bottom of the rosettes instead of the center of the rosettes. Most Dudleyas flower in late winter to early spring and the colors range from white and yellow to bright red.
Dudleyas earn their common name of live forever—many living up to 100 years with proper care. They have a wide range, but are typically found in rock outcroppings, cliff faces or steep slopes. Dudleya should be planted at an angle to allow accumulated water to drain from the center of the plant and prevent microbial decay. They are will adapted to the Southern California wet winters and dry summers. Avoid water in the summer. They do well in pots.
This genus is named for William Russell Dudley (1849 - 1911). After Dudley moved to California to accept a position as professor of systematic botany at Stanford University, his research and publishing focused on the diverse flora of California. The study of trees, the evolutionary relations of forms and the problems of geographical distribution were central to his research. Dudley's passion for conifers prompted his involvement in many conservation initiatives for the coast redwood and giant sequoia.
Gloria Slosberg, RSABG Nature Interpreter
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden offers its nature interpreters an infinite variety of constant and ever-changing surprise experiences: like seeing and hearing the loud call of a belted kingfisher perched on a tree at Benjamin Pond, or catching sight of a stunning rust color blossom on a spice bush, or observing a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis.
Miracles similar to these are an everyday occurrence in the Garden. They inspire further study as well as sharing with other volunteers and Garden visitors.
Continuing education is a significant part of the nature interpreter's experience: classes, field trips, event orientations, enrichments, self-study, refreshers, ad infinitum. Joy of learning and friendships that evolve from sharing common interests are enhanced by the energetic, inquisitive children who attend our tours.
At a recent refresher walk, our group stopped to observe a sugar bush. Dick Angus recalled my practice tour nine years ago. You may be able to empathize with my first tour anxiety. I identified the sugar bush as a western redbud. No one said a word; we went on. The next tree was a REAL western redbud with heart shaped leaves and rosy pink blossoms. We all laughed! In that moment, Irv Goldhammer, my mentor, gave me an unforgettable learning tool: patience towards self and others.
What keeps me coming back to RSABG? It is all of the above, plus the uniqueness of each child and adult. On a tour with first graders not long ago, all of us were standing under a California sycamore tree examining its leaves. Then I said," Let's look at the trunk". A little boy, without skipping a beat, asked, "Where is the elephant?"
Thank you, Susanna Bixby Bryant for making all this possible!
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s $75,000 Matching-Gift Challenge is Met with Enthusiasm by Garden Donors
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has come one step closer to its goal of raising $1 million in annual fund donations this year through The Garden Fund, the non-profit’s 2011-12 fundraising campaign. The non-profit organization is celebrating the completion of a $75,000 matching grant which tripled donors’ contributions to The Garden Fund.
Volunteer at California’s native garden—Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.
There are two New Volunteer Orientation, “RSABG 101,” sessions to choose from. Prospective volunteers can choose from two, two-day sessions: Fridays, September 21 and October 5, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or Saturdays, September 29 and October 13, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Enrollment in the volunteer orientation course requires an interview with the volunteer manager.
- Fall Planting Tips
- Undergrad Reseach Workshop
- RSABG’s oak collection ranked 28th in the world
- Seed Processing Manual goes to 2nd printing
- New Trustee and Overseers
- Lerback Appointed Director of Development
- Native artisan baskets and pottery
- RSABG co-hosts 2010 National Children and Youth Garden Symposium
- Claremont High School students show off research at RSABG
- Green Tips for Earth Day
- RSABG chosen Best of LA 2010
- Rare Plant Treasure Hunt
- World travelers: RSABG botanists
- Botany Students Land Research Grants
- Fraga Awarded 2010 Switzer Fellowship
- Rare Botanical Folk Art Revealed
- Curating the plant specimens of the Thorne collection
- Seeds of Success
- New articles by Professor Prince
- RSABG Research Welcomes Visiting Scholars
- Sorting out the Ruellieae Family Tree
- 'Reimagining the California Lawn'
- Claremont Unified School Board honors RSABG
- 2011 Volunteer Service Awards
- Columbus Advances to Professor of Botany
- Growing Green Jobs with Ahmanson Grant
- BCM Foundation Grant Helps Kids Get Outdoor Education
- RSABG Scientists at 2011 Botany Conference
- Solarization of Fay's Wildflower Meadow
- Make Room for Wildlife
- Botany Students Earn Grants
- Botanist Recognized for Outstanding Scientific Presentation
- Mapping the Garden
- Native Landscapes: The Albrigos
- California Native Plants: Poodle-dog Bush
- Garden Helps Prepare Job Seekers for Green Horticulture Jobs
- Lenz Sculpture Collection
- RSABG Hosts Invasive Plants and Pathogen Workshop
- Post-Doc Earns National Geographic Society Grant
- A Manzanita Lost and Found
- Searching for the Plant Families
- Two New DIGG Awards
- Botanists Travel Briefs
- Plant Safari
- CPC Annual Meeting 2012
- LaFleur to Direct Horticulture at the Garden
- New Student Grants and Visiting Scientists
- David Rogers' Big Bugs
- Horticulture and Propagation of Native Plants at the Garden
- The Mediterranean City Conference 2012
- USFWS 2011 Recovery Champion
- Wall Awarded Important Conservation Award
- Volunteer in Angeles National Forest
- Botanizing Around the Globe
- Become a Fan of Getting Native
- Bumper Crop of Interns at the Garden
- Porter and Morawetz NSF Grant Awards