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  • Jennifer Jewell


Clare Foster and Sabina Rüber. Photo ©Eva Nemeth, all rights reserved.


As we continue our series exploring some of the people and groups looking out for the integrity and prosperity of seed in our world, we move to Southern California, where Dr. Naomi Fraga serves as the Director of Conservation Programs at the California Botanic Garden, formerly known as Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which since 1927 has been dedicated to education about and conservation of the plants of the California Floristic Province. Their conservation programs include field studies, laboratory studies, a restoration nursery, and seed banking and conservation.

Dr. Fraga joined me in conversation from her own home and native plant garden in Southern California earlier this year.

Founded in 1927 in Orange County along the banks of the Santa Ana River, for most of its history the garden was known as the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. The facilities moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s and in March of 2020 was renamed California Botanic Garden to more clearly align with its mission,

In our conversation, Dr. Fraga explains the different branches of work in the Conservation Programs, which from the beginning has included seed collecting and seed banking as part of its work.

"California is really like a living laboratory and people from all over the world come to study our plants because it's so complex and interesting. Many studies are taking place looking at how climate change may shift plant distributions. Are our plants moving up the mountain? Down the mountain? We could think about what’s happening in our state to think about our changing planet."

Dr. Naomi Fraga, California Botanic Garden

Currently, the seed bank at CalBG comprises over 5,000 accessions representing more than 2,000 California native plant species and cultivars. The geographic scope of the collection encompasses the entire state of California as well as the Mexican portion of the California Floristic Province. Naomi shares how and why plants are determined to be rare and how their seeds are prioritized for collection – starting with her research focus on a rare monkeyflower - whose seeds are like "dust" and have to be hand cleaned.

Naomi joined the CalBG staff in 2001 and is responsible for programmatic leadership and management of the Conservation Program. Naomi earned her Ph.D. and M.S. in Botany from Claremont Graduate University and her B.S. in Botany from Cal Poly Pomona. Naomi is broadly interested in plant conservation and her research focus includes floristics, rare plant biology, reproductive biology, and systematics of monkeyflowers. You can learn more about Naomi's research on her website.

You can follow along with Naomi's work on line at California Botanic Garden and at her website: Naomi and the Garden are on Instagram, respectively at: @Naomibot and @californiabotanicgarden/

Join us again next week when we continue our Seed Change series with Cheryl Birker, Seed Conservation Program Manager at California Botanic Garden and with whom we go even deeper into what it means to seed bank a biodiversity hot spot in our world. Listen in next week!





Naomi Fraga describes California as a living laboratory – a microsm from which to learn about our larger world and patterns of change. The Garden is devoted to the collection, cultivation, study and display of native California plants and to graduate training and research in plant systematics and evolution.

California, with over 6,000 taxa of native plants, has the richest flora of any state in the continental United States and their conservation priorities are achieved by growing plants in the Living Collection and maintaining an extensive seed bank with long-term storage and facilities for research on seeds – which encapsulates their multi-prong approach to this work

Interestingly, California also has the most diverse human population in the US according to a 2020 study ranking diversity along a wide array of metrics including socioeconomic, household and cultural diversity.

There are so many rich plant life opportunities in that intersection of spectacular biodiversity of people and biodiversity of plants. I love how one example of this is illustrated in a variety of ways in Naomi’s own story. My takeaway: it’s never too late to channel your inner plantperson. Or to nurture this in another. Never too late.

Cultivating Place is likewise a living laboratory gathering and nurturing a great diversity of plant and garden life stories from around the world. Thank you to the many donors who have stepped up to support this work and sustain it into its next 5 years, I truly could not gather these stories and amplify them out into the world without your generous contributions. I KNOW if you are living in the US you have been bombarded with requests for funds of late. So let me just say again thank you to all of you who have supported, we are just 8 donors shy of our challenge for 100 new donors and I am so grateful for your votes of confidence and belief in this garden work.

SO politics has been high on our collective radar these past months – whether we wanted it to be or not. And while some might say gardening should be above politics, it’s not and it’s certainly not above or outside of legislation – which brings me to the Botany Bill that Naomi refers to in our conversation. Did you know there was a Botany Bill? I did not until just a little before I spoke with Naomi a few months back now.

Here’s the basic information in case you’d like to learn more or get involved once we settle into a new cycle in 2021.

The Botany Bill(s) are the Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration, and Promotion Acts including the bipartisan H.R. 1572 reintroduced in the ​U.S. House of Representatives and

S.2384 - reintroduced in the U.S. Senate in 2019. ​

The Botany Bill promotes botanical research & sciences capacity, generates demand for native plant materials, & authorizes related federal activities. ​Initially a collaborative effort of Plant Conservation Alliance - Non-federal Cooperators Committee Chicago Botanic Garden & The Garden Club of America

This bipartisan legislation allows federal agencies to act ​with the expertise required to preserve unique American landscapes & emphasizes the importance of protecting native plants & ecosystems with goals to Employ & Train Botanists ​in the Federal Government, Fund Research, and Promote the Use of Native Plants.

As long as all stakeholders are authentically at this decision making table, these seem like great new year’s resolutions to me. I will keep you posted as and when I learn more!

But just the fact that ANY public policy includes the world BOTANY and has a focus on plants and ecosystems seems like growth toward the light.

Here’s hoping! The opportunities and possibilities as a result are real and hopeful. Together we can grow a better world.

If you would like to take part – follow the support button at the top of any page at Cultivating and HEY – keep growing my friends, keep growing.





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