Passion for Conservation
With a summer like California’s, it’s difficult to imagine anyone spending the entirety of their
days in scorching heat but that’s exactly how Chaffey College students Tiffany Larrabee and
Joselyn Gonzalez have spent their Summer at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden. Located
in the hills of Claremont, California, Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden is home to over tens of
thousands of plants over 55 acres. Although it’s beauty is open to the public 7 days a week, there
are a variety of behind the scenes actions that most members are unaware of. Fortunately,
Gonzalez and Larrabee were able to dive headfirst into the enchantress of RSABG.
“Everyday of the week we do something different, some days we’ll be in the herbarium and
other days we’ll be out in the field collecting specimens for research. The herbarium is really
special because it holds so much information that can later be used to study things like climate
change.” Larrabee mentions. The herbarium is filled with over 1,200,000 specimens and
approximately 7,000 species that get imaged and added to an online database where botanists
around the world can access their information for further research, thus playing an important role
in the gardens function. The herbarium is mainly home to California native plants; however, the
abundance of specimens is also home to plants from Mexico, Australia and other dry regions.
It remained clear with everyone at RSABG that research and conservation play an enormous role
in their mission. According to their website, “Staff, students, resident scientists and postdoctoral
fellows contribute directly to the overall research program at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic
Garden.” At the core of their work is constant learning and understanding through the likes of
several different resources. Through inventory, monitoring, research, horticulture, restoration and
seed bank programs RSABG is diligently working to conserve California flora.
Gonzalez expressed her gratitude for RSABG’s commitment to providing interns with a
thorough experience. Their management prioritized them by ensuring they were always working
in areas they showed interest in.
The main function of the nursery is to grow the plants for the 90 acres of the botanic garden.
Botanists continuously collect seeds, cuttings and other necessities to bring back to the nursery to
propagate and grow. Once they’re ready to be planted, typically in the fall or winter, the plants
are transferred to their designated spot. Phytophthora prevention, also known as, RSABG’s best
management practices is vital for the success of the nursery. Phytophthora is essentially a
gardens worst nightmare. Invisible to the naked eye, this plant disease causes weakness and a
slow collapse to a once healthy plant. If a plant is infected with Phytophthora and released into
the garden it has the ability to rapidly destroy an entire ecosystem. Nursery manager Bryce
Kunzel revealed that RSABG is one of the only nurseries in the surrounding areas that test for
phytophthora themselves. Before they’d send plants that needed testing to labs which depleted
them of time and resources.
Additionally, Kunzel expressed the importance of the garden is to create a home for native
California plants to thrive thus being able to restore other parts of California that are damaged
due to wildfires, urban development, drought and other challenges to biodiversity. He added,
“One really big thing we do here is restoration, natural ecosystem, rehabilitation, mitigation,
those sorts of things. Those types of projects are off site and the landowners contact us because
they have a disturbed they’d like to return to a natural habitat.”
Moreover, Larrabee and Gonzalez were not confined in their studies to RSABG. They were both
overjoyed to share how much opportunity they received from traveling to the Sierra Nevadas and
other areas rich in biodiversity.
“Being able to fully immerse myself in the professional work environment has been amazing.
It’s a nice preview to show we’re on the right track. I know we want it now but because of this
internship I now know that this can eventually be my life and I can’t wait to see it.” shared