Trip Recap

Today's behind-the-scenes CNPS field trip to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden was spectacular. We visited the seed bank, the archival and research library, nursery conservation and production areas, a portion of the garden, the "Chia to Chokeberry" ethnobotanical exhibit and of course the emmense herbarium.

We were hosted by experts in all areas, including plant records manager Helen Smisko, nursery assistant Andrew Chambers, seed bank expert John Macdonald, librarian Irene Holiman and herbarium manager Dr. Mare Nazaire. They were all equally incredible!

We started off in the propagation and growing area with assistant nursery manager Andrew Chambers. Here, we visited one of the seed rooms, where seed for propagation is separated and prepared for sowing. Some Pine species were laid out on the table in front of us waiting to have their seed extracted. Just to the side was a seed drying rack.

Andrew showed us a growth chamber, which is fully climate controlled, including light, temperature and humidity. Inside were several plants waiting to germinate that needed a specialized environment. Out in the nursery area Andrew discussed some of the conservation and restoration work that RSA is involved with. RSA provides several botanical services for various agencies and organizations. These might include site surveys, seed collection, custom propagation of specially, rare or sensitive species and more. We observed several crops of plants including some Arctostaphylos that had been in production for three years. A few members were really excited to see Calystegia felix both in propagation and in a test plot. This species was only described in 2013.

We then visited the seed bank, where seed expert John Macdonald was our host. John has been at RSA for 16 years, assisting in the seed collections area. When seed arrives from the field it begins here, usually in one of the "blowers". The seed is placed in the blower chamber and then air is carefully blown through the device at a very specific rate. The air separates the seed from the chaff and other debris.

John MacDonald's largest contribution is his photographic records of the seed flora of California. Each seed taxa is photographed in high resolution by John. He does such a great job that in 2007, with John Wall, John co-authored the ultimate book on seed storage. Extreme close-ups photographs show on the monitor next to the camera and John demonstrated a couple of photographs. With a macro lens and this his setup, very close photographs can be taken.

We also visited the seed bank storage area. In this room the seed is dried, documented, labeled, and eventually placed in cold storage. In each of the seed storage freezers vials of seed are placed, carefully labelled, catalogued and numbered.

Following the seed house, we walked a portion of the garden and living collection and paused for awhile in a very well done new ethnobotanical display. Here, we discussed the relationships of plants to people and cultures. We especially highlighted the connection of our native plants to native Americans, including uses in food, medicine, culture, basketry, clothing, livestock and more.
Our next stop was to the library, where librarian Irene Holman was especially informative and excited to see us. The collections here are quite impressive. The library houses thousands of technical publications, books, journals and other documents for researchers to use. However, the archival collections of original manuscripts, books, letters, field notes, art and more are equally impressive.

One of the highlights for several was a book by Karl Linnaeus called "Species Plantarum". Published in 1753. This is the book that is the origin of all botanical nomenclature. Another book was by John Gerard, who was a botanist and herbalist in London. He was the author of the 1484 page, heavily illustrated "Herball", also called the "Generall Historie of Plantes". It was first published in 1597.

One of the most famous botanical artists and illustrators of the past two centuries was Pierre Joseph Redoute. His quite famous publication of rose paintings was created between 1817 and 1824 and was especially beautiful. The plates in this book have been reprinted in dozens of ways and are quite popular in many uses, even today as framed art.

Clara Mason Fox was a prolific artist and botanical illustrator of the early 19th century and several of her works were shared. Botanically, Samuel Parish was one of southern California's most prominent early botanical pioneers. During the late 1800's and early 1900's he was one of the most prolific collectors of native plants and authored a few plant references. In addition to Parish's books, the library also houses Samuel Parishs' original hand written field notebooks.

Our final official stop of the day was into the massive herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana, which is the tenth largest in the United States. It houses approximately 1.2 million dried and pressed plant specimens. We also visited the herbarium mounting room, where the incoming plant collections begin. On these tables each specimen is painstakingly mounted and logged.  We viewed several plants in the collection, including a collection of a Gaultheria that was collected by Captian James Cook in1769 in New Zealand. It is the oldest herbarium sheet in the RSA collection.

Dr. Mare Nazaire is the herbarium manager and brought out a few herbarium examples of plants from the Orange County area. One was a collection by Fred Roberts of Pentachaeta aurea ssp. allenii - Allen's daisy. It is an endemic and rare plant of Orange County. It was named to honor OCCNPS member and author Robert (Bob) Allen.

It was a very, very special visit. Many thanks go to Helen Smisko, a OC CNPS member, and staff member of Rancho Santa Ana for organizing this trip and for coordinating each of the experts.