I LOVE plants. I became intensely interested in plants at six years old. I was laying face-first in a carpet of inch-high desert wildflowers, admiring the multi-colored “belly flowers” with their intricate patterns painted on each petal, and watching insects maneuvering into the flowers as if guided by elaborate runway markings. I felt as if I had entered a magical, miniature world with beauty and wonders I had never imagined. I was hooked.
So it was very fitting when I was selected to be our town’s first “Wildflower Queen” the same year as that memorable encounter (also probably not a surprise, since my grandmother dreamed up the whole idea of a wildflower show, and likely selected the would-be queen). My mom’s passion for desert plants was ignited by her mother, Morongo Valley’s first librarian, when she asked my mom to help her organize that first wildflower show in 1958.
To help my mom and grandmother prepare for Morongo Valley’s first ever wildflower show, I started trekking all over the mountains and valleys of our desert community with my mom, who was soon bitten by wildflower infatuation herself. We began by collecting flowers for display in vases, but we both felt a need to honor each bouquet by labeling what it was…but what were they? We checked out every library book available on wildflowers from my grandmother and identified every plant we found, eventually coloring in the line drawings in our own plant guides whenever we identified a new specimen.
But the wildflower show was just the start. Together my mom and I discovered, identified, tasted, tested, and researched every desert plant we could find throughout our local high desert. We fed on each other’s mutual, ravenous quest for knowledge about desert plants and how they have been used in ancient and modern times. I was so inspired that I went on to receive my masters degree in botany and biology at U.C. Riverside, next working as the curator of a herbarium, and then becoming a professional botanist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for 21 years.
I have loved studying plants close up, magnified with a hand lens, as well as through stereoscopes to interpret aerial photos to identify vegetation, and even from helicopters to map plant distribution and locate rare plants. My favorite way to relate to plants, though, is learning about the many uses of plants by indigenous peoples, whose lives were so intertwined with the plants where they lived that the two were inextricable. Now, in our own yard, I grow plants that were used by peoples native to our region long ago for food, medicine, basketry, flutes, and tools. I also love growing our native plants for the cover, food, and nest sites they provide for our songbirds.
I am passionate about sharing the fascinating world of plants with others. I have designed and presented environmental education programs for adults and children in many venues, including radio and TV. I love teaching classes and workshops about the uses of native plants, the fun of water-wise gardening, and little-known secrets I have discovered about the desert throughout my career as a field biologist.
I can’t decide whether I love learning or teaching more. Whenever I learn something new about plants, animals, or our natural world, I can’t wait to share that tidbit with others, wanting to spread the excitement. When I begin teaching what I’ve learned to others, I always want to learn even more so I can better explain it, and I get more excited still about the newly discovered facts.
So I guess I’ll just continue exploring the magic of plants everywhere, continually learning, and hopefully find others with whom I can share the amazing mysteries of our plant world.