Morawetz Orobanchaceae Research Updates

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.

Read more about his trip to DRC check out his travel blog here.

Read more about Morawetz' research at RSABG here.

Plant Quest

Introducing PlantQuest

Keeping traditional landscapes healthy in Southern California uses up to 70 percent of our potable water, requires gross amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, and produces countless emissions from maintenance equipment and contributes to some of the planet’s worst air quality. But there is a better way. By choosing the right plants for the right place, we can create truly sustainable landscapes—landscapes that thrive on little or no supplemental water and, little if any fertilizers or pesticides. Best yet, sustainable landscapes rarely need to be hedged, edged or mowed and that saves us all both time and money.

McDade Featured Speaker at Biodiversity Conference

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.

Recent Research Publications

The newest issue of RSABG’s scientific publication Aliso: A Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany was published September 2012.

Aliso Volume 30 issue features peer-reviewed articles authored by graduates of the botany program (Victor Steinmann, Ph.D. (CGU Class of 2001), director of the Instituto de Ecología in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico, wrote about Euphorbia, and an article on monkeyflowers (formerly Mimulus, now Erythranthe) from Naomi Fraga, M.S. (CGU Class of 2005) and CGU Ph.D. candidate, and a RSABG conservation botanist.

Fraga N.S. 2012. A Revision of Erythranthe montioides and Erythranthe palmeri (Phrymaceae), with descriptions of five species of monkeyflowers from California and Nevada, USA. Aliso 30: 49-68. Read more.

Other articles contributed by RSABG research associates include: Jim André, director of the Granite Mountains Desert Research Center, University of California, Riverside, Kelso, CA, and Rudolf Schmid, professor emeritus, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley (coauthored with his daughter Mena Schmid). Sherwin Carlquist, professor emeritus of botany, Claremont Graduate University and Pomona College, presents new findings on wood anatomy.

RSABG in Center for Plant Conservation Publication

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.

GNN in the Veterans Garden

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.

More information about Grow Native Nursery in the Veterans Garden


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.

Becoming a Nature Interpreter

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!

Matching Gift Challenge Met

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 the Garden

Volunteer at California’s native garden—Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

The privately-funded, nonprofit organization is searching for volunteers to help with gardening, leading tours and serving as information assistants. RSABG will offer orientation course for new volunteers beginning in September 2012. For more information and to download a volunteer application, visit our volunteer webpages, or contact Tiffany Chandler, RSABG manager of volunteer programs at (909) 625-8767, ext. 256 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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

Autumn is the best time to plant California native perennials, shrubs, bulbs and wildflower seeds.

Since native plants have spent generations adapting to local growing conditions, they are great additions to home landscapes—and one that can save you time and resources. Native plants are rarely invasive. They support local wildlife—birds and butterflies depend on them for food shelter and nesting. And most of all they are beautiful.

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  59. Porter and Morawetz NSF Grant Awards