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History of Research at SBBG

Research at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden traces its roots to our first director, Frederic E. Clements. Dr. Clements envisioned the Garden as the first of a series of planting sites ranging from the sea shore to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains which could be used for investigations of plant adaptations. While Dr. Clements' vision was never fully realized, scientific investigation has been an integral part of the Garden's identity since its inception.

Dr. Maunsell Van Rensselaer, our first full-time Director (1936-1950), took several steps to formalize the commitment of the Garden to botanical research. By creating an advisory committee of established scientists he brought a cadre of investigators who could support and encourage the research environment of the Garden. Research Associates, frequently faculty of the fledgling University of California at Santa Barbara, utilized the facilities and grounds of the Garden to support their investigations.

Van Rensselaer strongly encouraged undergraduate research and numerous students participated in research projects led by Garden staff and Research Associates. Several of those undergraduate students followed their experiences at the Garden with a life committed to botanical investigation. Clif Smith (A Flora of the Santa Barbara Region) and the late Dr. John M. Tucker, eminent oak systematist at UC Davis, both began their careers as undergraduate researchers at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Reid Moran, who studied Dudleya and later the flora of Baja California, also began his career at the Garden.

During the 1960s, Garden research expanded to include formalized plant exploration of the Channel Islands by Jim Blakely, analysis of past climates in the tree ring lab of Harold Gladwin, and cytogenetic studies of brome grasses by Marta Walters.

In recent years, the Garden's research and conservation efforts by Dr. Dieter H. Wilken, Dr. Robert N. Muller, Steve Junak and Tricia Wardlaw have focused on rare and endangered species and the invasive weeds that threaten them on public lands: including Fort Hunter Liggett, Camp Roberts, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Channel Islands National Park, San Clemente Island, San Nicolas Island, Burton Mesa Preserve, and the Los Padres National Forest.