Photos by Bryan Thompsonowak.
The climate in California is a fascinating subject, as we have experienced firsthand on this trip. Temperatures can fluctuate drastically as you travel from the valley back toward the bay area and, luckily for us, our nearly 100-degree morning in Davis turned into a 60-degree afternoon at the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Varying between 600 and 800 feet above sea level, the UC Botanical Garden has a unique environment for plant growth the includes wind and fog that supports the largest collection of documented wild-collected plants in North America!
We met several of UC Botanical Gardens staff on our visit. Director Dr. Paul Licht greeted us and introduced us to staff members Director of Horticulture Chris Carmichael and Curator Holly Forbes. This great team led us on a tour of the gardens, which was organized geographically in a naturalistic design. There was even an Eastern North American garden that included plants such as the Liquidambar (sweet gum), Kalmia
(mountain laurel), and Hamamelis (witch hazel)!
Arguably the most impressive aspect of this garden is their commitment to collections. UC Botanical Garden has the world’s largest collection of native California flora, and they have four nationally recognized plant collections through the North American Plant Conservation Consortium (NAPCC) – cycads, ferns, magnolias, and oaks. Additionally, they have a vast cactus and succulent collection, which is largely inaccessible to the public. Unfortunately, the garden has experienced several recent incidents of theft due to the rarity of the specimens in the collection, and that is why much of the collection is kept behind a barrier. There are still many amazing specimens that are not behind a barrier, however, and one that was in full bloom was Echinopsis tamaensis. The creamy, white flower was a bright spot of our visit during a cloudy and overcast afternoon.Despite the fact that there is no horticulture program at UC-Berkeley, the garden still plays a vital role for students on campus. Many courses, including biology, art, literature, geography, and medical ethnobotany, use the gardens as an invaluable outdoor laboratory. For us, the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley was a great example of a true botanical garden. Their focus on conservation, collections, and taxonomy was a notable and interesting contrast to some of the other organizations that we’ve visited since starting the program.
Our evening ended with a delicious Greek dinner and a pleasant stay in the heart of San Francisco. Up next: San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum and the Conservatory of Flowers!