Lucinda McDade

Executive Director, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Professor and Chair of the Botany Department, Claremont Graduate University
Judith B. Friend Director of Research, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

A colleague of mine has the idea that most field-oriented biologists have been biologists since birth whereas lab-oriented folks have largely come to their interests later in life. I am definitely of the former sort, having planted seeds and studied animals for as long as I can remember. My interests, however, took a detour in college when I was a premed (at least briefly). I think this happens to many naive students who are good at science and math but are not from professional families (and have not found other sources of good advice). As a college student, I had no idea what graduate school was, what one had to do to get a Ph.D., what one could do with a Ph.D., etc., etc.

In any event, having escaped the premed route, I went on to graduate school at Duke. While there, I contracted a rather severe--and on-going--case of tropical attraction, and the vast majority of my work has focused on tropical plants (and the animals that pollinate their flowers). I worked mostly in Mexico and Central America during my graduate days. During my graduate school days, in the category of most interesting things I've ever done:

- I took a field course in Costa Rica offered by the Organization for Tropical Studies.

- Along with other grad students from Duke, I drove to Panama twice from North Carolina.

- I worked as station manager of the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica for the better part of a year... truly one of the most horizon-expanding things I've ever done!

After finishing graduate school, I was lucky enough to be chosen for a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. I lived in Gamboa and worked in Parque Nacional Soberanía (the former Canal Zone) mostly on plant-hummingbird projects. It was a great experience!

Back at Duke for personal reasons, I taught a big (by Duke standards) course in environmental science for non-majors. One of the most challenging things I've ever done, this was also one of the most interesting. I learned an incredible amount about teaching, about various key environmental issues, about how undergrads learn, about making up exams, etc. etc.

Three years later, I went to work for the Organization for Tropical Studies as the staff member in charge of all of OTS' field courses. I was responsible for working with others to secure funding (as in many, many proposals to many, many foundations), and for supervising all aspects of course implementation and evaluation. I was based at the Durham, North Carolina office of OTS, but traveled to Costa Rica a great deal. During my OTS days, in the category of most interesting things I've ever done:

- I went with OTS Executive Director Don Stone to the corporate giving office of RJ Reynolds where we were offered a complementary selection of tobacco products (all sorts: from cigarettes through chewing tobacco to snuff) and shown the board of directors table (burly walnut with HUGE ash trays and furniture-sized cigarette lighters at each chair).

- I launched the OTS decision makers program: modeled after the courses for biologists, this program takes a number of policy makers (e.g., congressional staffers, members of the ministries of natural resources of Central American countries) into the field, gets them wet, dirty and uncomfortable (part of the OTS bonding experience), and brings them face to face with the real world effects of various policies. Again: I learned a great deal.

- I got involved in the 'La Selva book' project, which reached fruition in 1994 with publication of: La Selva: Ecology and Natural History of a Neotropical Rainforest (published by Univ. of Chicago Press).

I loved my work at OTS, but missed teaching, research, and working directly with students. Thus in 1992, I moved to the University of Arizona as an assistant professor and curator of the herbarium, in the Departments of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Plant Sciences. Southern Arizona was a fascinating place to live: with habitats close at hand ranging from Sonoran desert to spruce-fir forest, there is always something to do/learn about outdoors. There, I got involved in a number of local research projects, including work on genetic and morphological differentiation among Sky Island plant populations. I was also able to launch what has developed into an exciting research endeavor: bringing molecular sequence data to bear on problems of phylogenetic relationships in my favorite group of plants, Acanthaceae. I was extremely proud to be associated with the University of Arizona Herbarium (ARIZ). It is a great institution with an extremely active user community and a very important collection of vascular plants. During my Arizona days, in the category of most interesting things I've ever done:

- I taught systematic botany to a couple hundred wonderful students. In so-doing, I learned a great deal about the flora of southern Arizona, kept current on our rapidly developing knowledge of phylogenetic relationships among plants, and developed a very profound respect for students at the University of Arizona.

- I spent a lot of time on mountaintops with a number of great students studying the plants that occur there. Among the most notable was our trip to the Sierra de los Ajml in 1999….. hint: the "road" was a stream bed and it was the wettest monsoon in years.

- Together with assistant curators, Phil Jenkins and Kristen Johnson, at the herbarium, I landed two grants from the National Science Foundation that permitted us to make substantial improvements in the herbarium. We caught up on the backlog and installed compacters.

- I acquired more than a passing knowledge of the various methods of de-skunking dogs.

- My research on phylogenetics of Acanthaceae developed into a collaborative, international, and productive enterprise (see publications list!). Especially exciting is that I began working on Old World Acanthaceae, via two great trips to South Africa, including a sabbatical stay of more than two months in early 2000.

Again, I loved living in Arizona and also loved almost all aspects of my job at the University of Arizona. However, once again, change beckoned and I next landed at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia as curator of Botany. The plant collection there is large (ca. 1.5 million specimens), of incredible historical significance, and it was in need of a lot of attention. Although I consider Philadelphia to be at the northern edge of inhabitable world, the venerable old city grew on me quite a bit during my years there (and since):  excellent museums, symphony orchestra, great restaurants. Among other things, it turned out to offer an excellent route for biking the ten or so miles between work and home. The Academy oozes history and working in the herbarium for an hour or so is a veritable tour de force of who’s who in North American botany. During my Academy days, in the category of most interesting things I've ever done:

- On my second day on the job, I traveled to Washington D.C., with colleagues from the Department of Botany to participate in a ceremony at the White House at which a number of newly conserved national monuments were declared. Ironically, this included sites that link my Arizona life (a giant chunk of Sonoran Desert west of Tucson) and my new job in Philadelphia (sites along the route that Lewis and Clark followed [the plant specimens collected during that amazing expedition are at the Academy]).

- I gave many behind-the-scenes tours of the Lewis and Clark plant specimens, especially associated with the celebrations surrounding the bicentennial in 2003 of the step off of the expedition. Some of the folks who came to visit were speechless; I thought that one elderly gentleman was going to cry.

- Traveled to Madagascar for a collecting trip:  truly an amazing place in all ways and an incredibly diverse acanth flora.  Lots of work to be done there!

- Rehoused the entire 1.5 million specimen collection with support from NSF, IMLS and a couple of other small grants. Since the 1980s, the collection had been in open fronted, wooden cabinets with cubbyholes that were too wide, deep and tall for herbarium specimens. The bug infestation was horrifying (luckily, the types and Lewis & Clark specimens were housed on a different floor in normal herbarium cabinets). To read about the entire process (which began shortly after I arrived when we began systematically freezing and storing specimens in heat sealed plastic bags) click here.

As noted above, Philadelphia did grow on me and it was nice to have a group of systematists as colleagues (albeit very few botanists) but I really missed being involved in graduate education, I missed being able to grow research plants in a research greenhouse, I missed having a critical mass of people interested in plants, and I really missed the western US.  Thus, I jumped at the chance to apply for the position as Judith B. Friend Director of Research at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG). I was fortunate to land the position and I have been here since Fall of 2006. RSABG is a botanist’s botanic garden in that it is dedicated to native plants, in this case the spectacular flora of California. The Garden hosts a master’s and Ph.D. granting graduate program in botany in association with Claremont Graduate University. There are extensive facilities for growing plants and a large herbarium (ca. 1 million plants) that blessedly does not need emergency work! Seminars about plants are well attended and don’t need to begin with desperate efforts to convince the audience that plants are interesting. I have recently learned (from Bruce Baldwin’s banquet speech at Botany 2008 in Vancouver) that I am the academic great granddaughter of Willis Linn Jepson which may explain help to explain why I feel so at home here. It is a terrifically fun challenge to learn a new flora and to learn how to work in a new organization!


Lucinda McDade's CV. To download a PDF copy click here.


Recent publications:

McDade, L.A., T.F. Daniel, C.A. Kiel, and A.J. Borg. 2012. Phylogenetic placement, delimitation, and relationships among genera of the enigmatic Nelsonioideae (Lamiales: Acanthaceae). Taxon 61(3): 637–651. To read the abstract of this article click here.

Daly, M., P.S. Herendeen, R.P. Guralnick, M.W. Westneat, and L.A. McDade. 2012. Systematics Agenda 2020: The Mission Evolves. Systematic Biology 61: 549–552. To download a PDF of this article click here.

Maddison, D.R.R. Guralnick, A. Hill, A.-L. Reysenbach, and L.A. McDade. 2012. Ramping up biodiversity discovery via online quantum contributions. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 27: 72–77. To download a PDF of this article click here.

McDade, L.A., D.R. Maddison, R. Guralnick, H.A. Piowar, M.L. Jameson, K.M. Helgen, P.S. Herendeen, A. Hill, M.L. Vis. 2011. A challenge to biologists to create and embrace a new assessment system for modern professional productivity. BioScience 61: 619-625. To download a PDF of this article click here.

McDade, L.A. The multi-faceted contributions to conservation of California plants from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. 2011. Proceedings of the 2009 CNPS Conference. To download a PDF of this article click here.

McIntosh, M. E., A. E. Boyd, P. D. Jenkins, and L.A. McDade. 2011. Growth and mortality in the endangered Nichol's turk's head cactus (Echinocactus horizonthalonius var. nicholii (Cactaceae)) in southeastern Arizona, 1995-2008. The Southwestern Naturalist 56: 333-340. To download a PDF of this article click here.

McDade and Tripp. 2007. A synopsis of Costa Rican Ruellia (Acanthaceae), with descriptions of four new species (Brittonia 59: 199–216). To download a PDF of this article click here.

Kiel et al. 2006. Phylogenetic delimitation of Isoglossinae (Acanthaceae: Justicieae) and relationships among constituent genera (Taxon 55: 683-694). To download a PDF of this article click here.

McDade and Tripp, with Daniel. 2005. Acanthaceae of La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. To download a PDF of this article click here.

McDade et al. 2005. Phylogenetic relationships among Acantheae (Acanthaceae): major lineages present contrasting patterns of molecular evolution and morphological differentiation (Systematic Botany 30: 834-862). To download a PDF of this article click here.