WANDER WITH A NATURALIST
We invite you to explore the Garden with a botanical expert as your guide. Brief 3-5 minute interviews with renowned naturalists offer a fresh perspective to the plants that surround you here. Listen while you walk, or find one of our seating areas to relax and enjoy. The numbers on the map offer a suggested route.
1. Introduction – Victoria Sork and Mildred E. Mathias
Victoria Sork: My name is Victoria Sork and I have the privilege of being the director of the Mildred E. Matthias Botanical Garden. In many ways, I think about the garden as a living museum. I know that people walk around museums and they are curious, about how the experts interpret the art. That inspired me to ask the experts who have spent time at the UCLA botanical garden—how do they think about plants and nature and share that with our visitors. Mildred E. Matthias was an internationally renowned botanist. It was Mildred who first introduced the notion of creating biogeographic regions within the garden. The mission of the garden to promote teaching, education, and public enjoyment became established when Mildred E. Mathias became the director. I thought it would be useful for you to hear Mildred E. Mathias in her own words.
Mildred E. Mathias: The garden is organized somewhat geographically and somewhat ecologically. So, the hilltop up here is our tropics. It’s the warmest spot in the garden. The primary reason for a botanical garden on a university campus is to have a place where one can teach the students. So it’s not a display garden, and the display is only incidental. It is an extremely useful teaching garden, as well as a garden where a number of interesting plants have been made available to the public. Come and walk through a peaceful garden here.
Victoria Sork: I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from Mildred, and I hope you enjoy the other commentaries during your visit to the garden.
2. Unique + Endangered Hawaiian Flora – Tom Gillespie
Victoria Sork: Let me introduce you to Professor Tom Gillespie. Tom has been studying tropical forests throughout the world, looking at patterns of species diversity. He is particularly enthusiastic and incredibly insightful about plants of Hawaii.
Tom Gillespie: I mean, if I was just going to talk about the Botanical Gardens here, what really is spectacular is outside of Hawaii, this is the biggest outdoor collection of Hawaiian plants anywhere where in the world, which is pretty impressive. And it’s just really invaluable for me because I can show students slides, but if I can take them outside and actually show them the plants, there’s just a better connection , I think they appreciate that. And you are saving the actual genetic information by keeping it here, collecting seeds, propagating it. That’s a huge service. As you come up, the Hawaii section, the first thing that you’ll usually see blooming is a red hibiscus the Hibiscus clayii, or Clay’s hibiscus. The reason it’s so stunning is in 1994, there were only four plants in the wild. And then in 2011 they found an additional 120 plants. And it only occurs in the dry forest of Hawaii. To actually see it in the wild, is almost impossible. Right here we have four or five individuals, which is really stunning. Across from the bench , you’ll see the Hibiscus brackenridgii. That doesn’t look like much, but in the spring time it will have a beautiful yellow flower . And that’s the Hawaiian state flower. It’s on the endangered species list and there’s only about 300 individuals in the wild. The island of Lanai only has one individual. You kind of get an idea of the challenges that native plants face. Just imagine if our state flower was on the endangered species list. Right behind the stone bench—this is the Loulu palm. There are 23 endemic species to Hawaii, and they’re all in the same genus Pritchardia. It’s got a fan like palm. You can see slight hairs on the underside, that’s one of these characteristics of the Pritchardia. This one is really amazing, Pritchardia hilabrandii. It used to be everywhere on the Island of Molokai, but it went locally extinct when Polynesians brought fire and Europeans brought cattle. So it was discovered on just two rocks outside of Molokai. In Hawaii, 90% of the plants are endemic, meaning they occur there and no where else in the world. And Hawaii is just full of endangered species. It just shows you the real challenges that people are having in Hawaii, maintaining natural populations that regenerate and the gardens has a whole bunch of them here. Dude, it’s just an amazing collection!
3. Mediterranean Climate Ecosystems – Phil Rundel
4. California Floristic Province – Peter Raven
Victoria Sork: I’m very proud to introduce you to Peter Raven. Peter is an amazing botanist, and truly a champion for conservation. Time magazine called Peter: “Hero for the Planet.” He has produced hundreds of articles, and he’s received many, many prizes. He started his career studying California native plants. And Peter is one of the experts in understanding why California has so many species of plants. So I thought this was a commentary that you would enjoy listening to.
5. Oaks: An Evolutionary Success Story – Victoria Sork
Victoria Sork: I’m Victoria Sork, director of the botanical garden, distinguished professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, as well as the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability.
I’ve always been interested in trees, but over time, I became more and more fascinated with oaks. oaks have become part of our culture. We’ve used oaks for shipbuilding, fences, housing. Many civilizations have used acorns for food. Many people love truffles, and those live off the roots of oaks. And wine barrels come from the wood of oaks. oaks in particular have been so successful—they diversified and became the dominant species of each ecosystem where they occur. We can find them in forests right on the edges of rivers, in savannas, woodland forests, in the chaparral, even deserts of California. They started out up in the arctic, and over the last 50 million years, more and more species evolved, and they spread into more ecosystems—primarily in Asia, Europe, and North America. They really are the dominant species of most ecosystems throughout North America. If you take the biomass of all of the oak species in the northern hemisphere, they are the most abundant tree that we have. By sequencing the entire genome of one oak, the Valley oak, we learned they have hundreds of genes to help them resist diseases. And it may be one of the secrets to their success. In our garden, you’ll find a nice specimen of Valley oak growing near Jewell Terrace. Valley oaks are found throughout California. Sometimes when you go through a vineyard and you see these tall trees scattered throughout the vineyard, those are often Valley oaks. The interior parts of California along the foothills, you’ll see beautiful Valley oaks. The most common tree oak in Los Angeles is Coast live oak, which occurs along the coast from Baja, California, all the way up to Northern California. And we have Coast Live Oak growing along the stream. On the opposite side of the stream, we also have Cork oak. Cork oak actually is from Portugal. It’s called Cork oak because all of the corks for wine bottles in the world come from the trunk of the cork tree. We have a few specimens of the Cork tree. You will also find some Scrub oaks, as you walk along the path to the California native plants collection. Up on the Hill as you walk towards Hilgard, we have a beautiful, Canyon live oak and it has a bench underneath it. So if you want to enjoy the Canyon live oak, you can walk over there and visit it. We have a diversity of oaks scattered throughout the garden. And I hope you can enjoy some of them, as you walk through and experience this beautiful place.