Undergraduate students travelled to Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden for a plant systematics and evolutionary biology workshop August 10 through 20, 2016.
The workshop offered students a hands-on plant science learning opportunity—from collecting and making plant specimens to DNA extraction to working with the scanning electron microscope to analyzing the data that result from such a project.
Over the years, students have come from colleges and universities in Tennessee, Indiana, Arkansas, Texas and Southern California, as well as international students from Namibia, Mexico and Venezuela. Professors Lucinda McDade and J. Mark Porter led this year’s workshop and Manuel Lujan, CGU doctoral candidate, served as the teaching assistant.
The intensive 10-day workshop focused on the types of research questions and methods used in reconstructing evolutionary relationships in plants. Topics covered included: DNA extraction and sequencing methods, scanning electron microscopy, anatomy and morphology, field collection techniques and herbarium curation. Participants learned to use Internet tools (e.g., GenBank) and software packages to gather, process and analyze phylogenetic data.
These yearly workshops are made possible through funding provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Nick Jensen is a PhD student in the botany program at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden/Claremont Graduate University. Nick’s research centers on understanding biogeographic and evolutionary patterns in the Flora of California. One of Nick’s projects documents the plant diversity on California’s largest contiguous piece of private land, Tejon Ranch. Nick’s findings on Tejon Ranch inform land management activities with a primary focus on rare species conservation. In addition, he is studying evolutionary and biogeographic trends, and patterns of rarity in Streptanthus (jewelflowers). Nick is also using his skills in geospatial analysis to identify threat patterns in more than 1200 globally-rare plant species in California.
Prior to attending graduate school Nick worked as the Rare Plant Program Director for the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), a statewide non-profit devoted to the study, conservation, and appreciation of the state’s flora. He also recently worked on a project with the Chicago Botanic Garden with the goal of understanding how rare plant species will respond to projected climate change. Nick continues to be active in conservation advocacy and science as a member of the CNPS Rare Plant Program Committee and as the president of the Southern California Botanists. As a next step in his career Nick intends to focus on landscape scale conservation and land management. He feels strongly that, in a rapidly changing world, scientists will play an important role in designing networks of conserved land. These conserved lands will provide plants and animals habitat necessary for survival, while also providing humanity with the ecosystem services necessary for a high quality of life.
About the Switzer Foundation
The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation is a results-driven family foundation that invests in individuals and organizations that drive positive environmental change. Founded in 1986 by Robert and Patricia Switzer, and guided by Robert’s years as a businessman and innovator, support of emerging leaders committed to solving real world environmental problems is the cornerstone of all Switzer Foundation programs.
The Foundation is a grantmaking organization that mobilizes leaders from diverse disciplines who focus on integrated solutions to environmental issues. Through our core program, the Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program, and related grants, the Foundation supports a Network of almost 600 Switzer Fellows who are leaders in the nonprofit, public policy, business, academic and government sectors working to solve today’s environmental challenges.
Over $14 million in Fellowships and grants have been awarded since 1986. The Foundation is governed by a seven-member board comprised of family members and environmental professionals from non-profit, government, academic and private sectors, reflecting the diversity of the Fellowship itself and the cross-sector approaches needed to effect positive change. Fellows also serve as Trustees and on the Fellows’ Advisory Committee to guide Foundation programs and new approaches.
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.
The newest issue of RSABG’s scientific publication Aliso: A Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany was published April 2014.
Aliso Volume 30 issue (September 2012) 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.
The Seeds of Success (SOS) team at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has been responsible for greatly expanding international seed bank holdings from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.
A recent expedition to a collection site on the Pacific Crest Trail is rewarded with a copious yield of the shrub saltbrush (Atriplex canescens). The four-wing saltbrush codominates desert plant communities in Southern California and is a food source for the desert tortoise. The saltbrush seed collection will ultimately help build an ample national and international seed bank to maintain and restore resilient native plant communities after environmental damage such as fire or urban development.
In September 2012, Professor Lucinda McDade, Judith B. Friend Director of Research at RSABG (and as of July 2013, Executive Director), received a supplement of approximately $50,000 to the current RSABG grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to digitize and georeference data from about a quarter of a million herbarium specimens of California plants.
The supplement will support the full participation of the herbaria of UCLA and California State University, Sacramento, in the NSF-supported project and in the California Consortium of Herbaria (CCH). The consortium is a collaboration of 22 California herbaria as well as the New York Botanical Garden and Harvard University Herbaria. It acts as a gateway to information for scientifically verified, vouchered information about California plants. The grant supplement will support databasing of about 30,000 specimens held at these two herbaria. The records will be available online to plant scientists from around the world, as well as to the public, via the CCH’s website.
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.
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.
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!
Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has ranked Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s oak collection as 28th largest collection of rare or endangered oaks in the world.
The survey identified 3,796 oak records from 198 institutions in 39 countries. RSABG’s collection of oaks was deemed a significant botanic garden collection by assigning a score for each taxa within the garden’s collection and the number of unique or rare collections.
Read more about BGCI’s global survey of ex situ oak collections at their website.
- Seed Processing Manual goes to 2nd printing
- Rare Plant Treasure Hunt
- Curating the plant specimens of the Thorne collection
- RSABG Research Welcomes Visiting Scholars
- Sorting out the Ruellieae Family Tree
- Claremont Unified School Board honors RSABG
- BCM Foundation Grant Helps Kids Get Outdoor Education
- Solarization of Fay's Wildflower Meadow
- Make Room for Wildlife
- Native Landscapes: The Albrigos
- California Native Plants: Poodle-dog Bush
- Lenz Sculpture Collection
- A Manzanita Lost and Found
- Searching for the Plant Families
- Plant Safari
- Botanizing Around the Globe
- Porter and Morawetz NSF Grant Awards