California native-plant classic gets a 21st-century makeover

Jan 31, 2012 By Cathy Cockrell
Species no longer classified as lilies in The Jepson Manual's second edition.

Thanks to new molecular-genetic tools and intensive field research, scientists’ understanding of the native flora of the Golden State -- one of the world’s hotspots of botanical diversity -- has grown exponentially in the 18 years since publication of The Jepson Manual, the authoritative reference on California botany. New native plants have been discovered, evolutionary relationships redefined, additional species threatened or endangered by development and climate change — the list goes on.

With so much new knowledge to be incorporated and so much at stake on the conservation front, early copies of the supersized tome The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, 2nd edition (UC Press) were eagerly snapped up — its six-pound weight, 1,600 pages and $125 sticker price notwithstanding — at a meeting of native-plant enthusiasts in San Diego earlier this month.

Bringing Jepson’s legacy into the 21st century, the new manual aims to describe “all California taxa that occur in wildlands, regardless of how difficult to identify,” says convening editor Bruce Baldwin, curator of UC Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium, named for the eminent early California botanist and Berkeley professor Willis Linn Jepson. In all, the second edition features 7,601 California plant species, subspecies and varieties.

Plant keys, which help readers definitively identify plants, were edited for accuracy, clarity and ease of use. New botanical illustrations were added; earlier illustration plates were revised to reflect new understandings of plant relationships. Five staff and five editors, in addition to Baldwin, fine-tuned entries authored by some 300 experts from around the world. A first-ever electronic version was also created; the e-book is in final production, with an expected release in mid-February.

No wonder that Baldwin — himself a California native, and a professor of integrative biology — calls the second edition’s years-long gestation “the most time-consuming undertaking of my career.”

The guiding philosophy for the revision, he says, was to classify California plants according to the newest findings on their evolutionary relationships, rather than preserving “groups of convenience” dictated by traditional classification schemas.

California goldfields, for example, a native daisy that carpets the state’s oak woodlands and grasslands in spring, was long thought to constitute a single species. But research in the late 1990s by Raymond Chan, a grad student of Baldwin’s, determined that there are, in fact, two distinct species of California goldfields. In the second edition, the plants’ descriptive treatment, co-authored by Chan and the late Robert Ornduff, former director of the Jepson Herbarium, reflects this new understanding of a signature California wildflower.

Many Californians, even if they don’t share serious botanists’ passion about such distinctions, are passionate about preserving the state’s natural heritage. The new Jepson Manual aids the conservation cause, Baldwin says, by helping to ensure that rare or endangered native — some of them now identified for the first time — don’t “slip through the cracks” and disappear forever.

The Jepson Manual is part of the larger Jepson Flora Project, which is also producing online companion materials found on the Jepson Online Interchange for California Floristics.

Explore further: 'Tiger heavyweight' Nepal hosts anti-poaching summit

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Urging evolutionary biologists into the fray

Nov 19, 2010

A Harvard botanist is citing climate change lessons learned at Walden Pond and urging evolutionary biologists into the global warming fray, where their knowledge of species’ genetic relationships can ...

Biologists call for regulation of rare plant sales

Jan 27, 2011

( -- People are increasingly obtaining endangered or threatened plants, often illegally, and moving them outside their native range, according to an article published this week in the journal Nature by ...

Recommended for you

'Tiger heavyweight' Nepal hosts anti-poaching summit

10 hours ago

Nepal's success in turning tiger-fearing villagers into their protectors has seen none of the endangered cats killed for almost three years, offering key lessons for an anti-poaching summit opening in Kathmandu ...

GMO mosquito plan sparks outcry in Florida

Jan 31, 2015

A British company's plan to unleash hordes of genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida to reduce the threat of dengue fever and other diseases has sparked an outcry from fearful residents.

Population genomics unveil seahorse domain

Jan 30, 2015

In a finding vital to effective species management, a team including City College of New York biologists has determined that the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is more a permanent resident of the we ...

Researchers develop new potato cultivar

Jan 30, 2015

Dakota Ruby is the name of a new potato cultivar developed by the NDSU potato breeding project and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Dakota Ruby has bright red skin, stores well and is intended ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.