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  • Jennifer Jewell


A fen is a low and marshy, or frequently flooded natural area and California fens are among our most fragile and bi0diverse environments. Here a wetlands area full of California pitcher plant, orchids and other wetland flowers and forbs. Photo by Jennifer Jewell.


Seeing the world through plant-colored glasses: Linnea Hanson is a career field botanist, and founder of Northern California Botanists. Today she shares her botanical journey story.

Last week we visited with two plants people – one a botanist, the other a plant-loving artist from South Africa, one of the world’s centers of botanical biodiversity, and a seat from which plant speciation radiated out. This week we visit a career field botanist in interior Northern California, the northeastern most tip of the California Floristic Region, another of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. Linnea is named most immediately for a family member, but indirectly named after Carl Linnaeus, the famed Swedish botanist who helped to codify our current two part categorizing and naming of life on earth.

For Linnea, botany is part of the warp and weft of everyday life, and it has been since her childhood. After her undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences, she completed her masters in the same. In her 32, years as a professional botanist for the Plumas National Forest in California, Linnea worked at the district, zone, and forest levels. She developed the Sensitive Plant Program, which became a prototype for other national forest botany programs, and she provided botanical input on rare plants, noxious weeds and unique habitats for environmental documents.

In 2006, Linnea made good on something she’d wanted to do for much of her career and before she retired when she kicked off the founding of the Northern California Botanists - an organization of passionate and dedicated botanists focused on increasing knowledge and communication among agency, consulting, academic, and other botanists about botanical issues concerning science, conservation, education, and professional development. The group’s primary objectives are "to establish a communication forum via meetings, a scholarship fund for students working on botanical problems in Northern California, a job forum, and symposia that focus on the botany of Northern California." Norcalbotanists held their first symposium in January of 2007 - the monumental result of many people pitching in to bring the logistics and community of Northern California botany together.

January 14 – 16 the Northern California Botanists host the 9th Botanical Symposia, entitled Research and Conservation of Northern California Vegetation Communities, on the campus of California State University, Chico.

Plants are our constant companions, they are all around us – no matter where we might live – making our life here possible, better and more beautiful, today’s journey story with Linnea offers some insight on how botany and botanists are all around us as well and constantly adding to our understanding of life.

“I like to see the world a little differently - like seeing different orchid sites around North America, that’s really fun - it’s a different way of seeing the world rather than just going to big cities, though when I went to visit my son in New York City, one of the orchidists I met at a conference there took me to see one of the parks on Staten Island to see orchids there. So there’re orchids in NYC, which I think is kind of neat.”"

Linnea Hanson, Botanist

Linnea has spent her career in relationship to the distinct plants and plant communities of Northeastern California and is an expert on fens, orchids, and penstemon. In addition to being active in Norcalbotanists, she sits on the board of the Friends of the Chico State Herbarium and frequently gives talks and leads identification walks on behalf of botanical organizations in the North State.

For the upcoming symposia botanists from around the region, the state and beyond will gather for a 2-day schedule of presentations by working botanists focused on such topics as Vegetation Mapping and Monitoring, the Importance of Herbaria in Research, Management, and Conservation, Vegetation Response to Fire, Challenges and Solutions for Conserving Cryptic Diversity, Native Plant Conservation, Lightning Talks, and information on some Good News in botanical research, and New Discoveries.

All of the presentations will be available online after the symposium, For more information on how to access them or anything else about the upcoming Northern California Botanists 9th Botanical Symposium visit the website below.

Follow Northern California Botanists at:



Ahh Listening to Linnea, I am of two minds and responses. The first is that I can hardly keep a handle on the plant communities in my tiny suburban lot – let a lone an entire National Forest. So I am thrilled there are botanists at work trying to document and monitor the plant life and communities of our nationally managed lands at all. The Plumas National Forest, where Linnea served as field botanist for 32 years, is 1 million 1hundred and 46 thousand acres of mountainous terrain in the Northern Sierra Nevada – full of interesting plants and plant communities integral to our quality of life in ways known and unknown.

Of the approximately 33 million acres of forest in California, federal agencies (including the USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service) own and manage 19 million acres (57%). SO while I am happy that botanists with their plant-based rather than human centric or profit centric view of the world are out there advocating, part of me also wonders why there aren’t more? - Of California's total plant population, 2,153 species, subspecies, and varieties are endemic and native to California alone, according to the 1993 Jepson Manual study. This botanical diversity stems not only from the size of the state, but also its diverse topographies, climates, and soils. The number of rare and endangered plants with in the biodiversity of the state continues to climb.

The California Native Plant Society keeps on ongoing inventory monitored with the help of citizen scientists and CNPS chapters annually. This is one of the important pathways of communication that Linnea helped connect and maintain – comparing her observations and data collection within her forest to the information being noted by others at work.

A recently published book chapter, "Forestry" in the 2016 Ecosystems of California book, provides a detailed overview of the history and future directions of California's forests. California forests face a number of threats. The greatest threat is not loss of forest due to harvesting and the lack of subsequent regrowth but conversion to non-forests from serious catastrophic events such as large wildfires and land use conversion to agricultural and residential land uses.

What’s my point? I’ll tell you that no matter where you are listening from – there are (or should be) public botanists working to and sometimes struggling to improve our everyday information and understanding of how all of these intricate and intertwined plant parts fit into the life and beauty of this planet. We often don’t see them or know what they do, and it’s our job as informed citizens of the planet to know more, to see more, to appreciate more their efforts – to vote with our own taking time to see and understand, to inform ourselves, and if you see or meet a public botanist in your area – say thank you. They are often public servants of the highest order plant variety. This kind of work, high protocol standards for it, and regular communication within the botanical world and outward to the rest of us plant-dependent and loving creatures matters to our futures.

Toward the end of our conversation, Linnea mentions the California Biodiversity Plan, so I wanted to follow up here – it’s worth an entire episode (or 10) so look forward to at least one in the not too distant future, but for now a quick ish summary. Biodiversity is an interesting concept and according to the center for biodiversity and conservation, The term biodiversity (comes from combining “biological diversity”) – it refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. Biodiversity includes not only species we consider rare, threatened, or endangered but also every living thing – from humans to organisms we know little about, such as microbes, fungi, and invertebrates.

In 2018 California’s outgoing Governor Jerry Brown asked the California Native Plant Society to help develop an action plan for native plant biodiversity. According to CNPS Director Dan Gluesencamp, “The finished plan is truly remarkable. It declares that native plants deserve the same protection as animals (finally!), and it mandates a set of incredibly ambitious projects – projects CNPS is already moving forward! Importantly, $2.5 million dollars were budgeted to support the Biodiversity Initiative via state agencies, and last week the state advertised for a new Biodiversity Coordinator." (Dan asks us to "Please help spread the word, so they hire someone amazing!")

Here's a links to the California Biodiversity Initiative A Roadmap for Protecting the State’s Natural Heritage – so I hope you take a look.

As gardeners and nature lovers, I think we know more keenly than some how much we don’t know – not long ago, in my mere 50 year lifetime, we had very little understanding about the complexity of the life of soil, the relationship between that life and the life of trees, the life of our own guts, and the relationship between all of these. Biodiversity is important to this beloved planet of ours whose forests and meadows and deserts and watersheds are the lungs, livers, hearts, and sources of abundance from which we benefit so richly in myriad ways. We’re all in this together and Botanists are among the bridges between us all.

In the January A View From Here Newsletter out earlier this week (subscribe HERE to receive the newsletter if you don't already :) I outline some of the resolutions and intentions for 2019 sent in by many of you - I hope you have a chance to read it over and remember - it's never too late to send me more.



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