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The garden is located at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley, CA


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October 2014
What Do You See?

Quick! What do you see in this picture?

Okay, got it?  It's obvious isn't it? Now, What do you see in the next picture?

Yosemite Valley

Did you answer "plants" for either of the two photos? This is a publication promoting a botanic garden, after all. If you're like most people, you did not answer the question that way. You're forgiven for the first photo. Almost everybody would see the mother elephant and calf. Not more than a handful of those who read this newsletter are familiar with the vegetation of Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa, nor with the impact an overpopulation of elephants is having on the native plants of the park.

Charles Webber's magnificent 1949 photo of Yosemite Valley, however, is labeled as Heracleum maximum in CalPhotos. A few of you may have mentioned that you saw cow parsnip, firs, oaks and grass as well as the monoliths known as El Capitan and Half Dome. Some of you know the area well enough to come up with the correct botanical names for the vegetation you see in the photo.

The photo of the two elephants is often used to illustrate a condition known as "plant blindness," which an overwhelming number of humans have. As James H. Wandersee and Elizabeth E. Schussler defined the condition in 1998, plant blindness as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment—leading to:
     (a) the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere, and in human affairs;
     (b) the inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features of the life forms belonging to the Plant Kingdom; and
     (c) the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration.”1

Much of the research on plant blindness since 1998 has come from Dr. Wandersee's 15° Lab at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, and concerns elementary and secondary biology education. The condition also receives mention in the press and social media from time to time. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article as recently as September 13 of this year detailing efforts by the Botanical Society of America and particularly Dr. Chris Martine to improve public understanding of the importance of plants. 2

The research does have a point; I see plant blindness everywhere I look. My nearly eight decades on this planet convinces me, however, that changing public perception of plants is an uphill battle. Plants, after all, have always played second fiddle: from the Noah story in the Bible to science-fiction visions of the future. Nor have plants received their due on TV since David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants aired on PBS nearly a generation ago. If plants merit so little mention, what chance do they have of entering the minds of twenty-first-century humans in a meaningful way? The answer, of course, is next to none. 

Plant blindness is insidious. It affects our perceptions of what is important in so many ways. I have all kinds of examples from which to choose. Some are so important they deserve to be shouted from the highest mountain: for example, how trendy coconut water speeds climate change. Space limits me to mentioning two land-use issues from California that are part of the larger whole. One is current; the other from the 1980s and early 1990s.

Rarely, if ever, do tax assessors consider plants the "highest and best use" of land. Thus, law and human history favor developers if there are no other legal protections. Development is even more likely if the land is considered "waste" land as in the case of Southern California deserts. Conservationists then must fight rear guard actions against megawatt solar fields and wind farms. No agency, no court is going to stop a "green" project because of an Astragalus or Echinocereus, no matter how rare. 

The battles to protect ecosystems are not fought on behalf of plants, as they should be, but on behalf of some "poster child" animal. Unfortunately, the best animal to be found to stop these desert solar projects is the not-so-cute desert tortoise. That is, until the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility began frying raptors and butterflies. Stay tuned—more to come.

owl Spotted owls, on the other hand, are cute. Environmentalists were eventually able to use the position of this animal as an endangered species to protect much of the remaining old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. But that seems like putting the cart before the horse. Saving the forests on their own merits would have protected not only the owl but many other species as well.
old growth
Why did it take an animal to protect this?

"Poster-child animals" have other pitfalls as well, especially when later research reveals that either the animal has never been as rare as once thought or the protections granted earlier serve their purpose and increase the populations of these animals to sustainable levels. The battle to preserve the land must then be refought with an opposition better prepared and a resentful public believing they were bamboozled by the earlier decision.

What can we as individuals do? First, our vision must become landscape wide. It must become part of our own being that ecosystems are what are important and terrestrial ecosystems mean plants above all else. We must then impart that belief to our children, our friends, our colleagues, and our community. If you think about it, plants are everything. They are what feed us, what shelter us, and—most importantly—what provide the oxygen we breathe. Without plants, life as we know it is impossible.

—John Rusk

1Wandersee, J. H., & Schussler, E. E. (1998, 13 April). A model of plant blindness. Poster and paper presented at the 3rd Annual Associates Meeting of the 15° Laboratory, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.

 2 “Botanists battle 'plant blindness' with seeds of knowledge” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 12, 2014.

We're Collecting Botanic Garden Photos and Stories

In 2015, the Regional Parks Botanic Garden will be 75 years old. We’ll be celebrating that momentous anniversary and would like to include you in the festivities. To begin, we’re collecting photos and stories of the garden, especially from the garden’s earlier years, from those who visit and love it. If you have pictures and/or stories to contribute from any time in the garden’s history, please send them to By U.S. mail, send them to Rosie Andrews, Regional Parks Botanic Garden, East Bay Regional Park District, P.O. Box 5381, Oakland, CA 94605-0381. Please send copies rather than original photos if you send them by U.S. mail. If you know the date your photo was taken, please provide it, along with a descriptive caption. We’d like to receive photos and stories by November 1, 2014.

Groundbreaking Ceremony at RPBG, Bonita Garden Club Gift

Georgia Madden, President of the Bonita Garden Club, and Regional Parks Botanic Garden Director Bart O’Brien hold the ceremonial shovel for groundbreaking on the new Southern California section rock gardens.
Upcoming Classes
A click here will take you to a full description of the class as well as the class registration form
Sunday mornings, October 12-December 7 Learning to Identify Plants by Key Space Available
Illustration/Photo Credits

Brian Snelson


Charles Webber©California Academy of Sciences

Yosemite Valley, Heracleum maximum

 John and Karen Hollingsworth, United States Forest Service

Spotted Owl

 niklpdx Opal creek Old Growth Forest
©Teresa LeYung Ryan
Ground breaking ceremony