By Susan Krzywicki.
Ed Peterson (1905-2005) was “seedsman and volunteer extraordinaire” for the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley, California. Ed started their seed-collecting program in 1962, a year before Theodore Payne died at 91. He was a true plant-hound: he haunted our chaparral, deserts, mountains and meadows, getting down on his hands and knees and camping rough. He celebrated his 100th birthday by sleeping under the stars in his beloved Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Ed graduated from Hollywood High School, got a degree in Botany from UCLA, and was Landscape Supervisor for Los Angeles City College before he started at Theodore Payne. His mission was always to preserve our embryonic native plants in their protective packaging for later use.
According to his New York Times obituary, “He knew the backcountry so well that he could predict at what bend or mile marker a particular flower would appear. His technique was ‘search and re-search,’ meaning that he would find a plant in bloom and then come back when it had turned brown and gone to seed. To find plants again required intricate calculations.” Ed’s use of the term ”search and re-search” refers to the process by which collectors must first find a stand of the specific species to collect from. Then, they must remember where the plants were late in the season when they are no longer at their peak and have dried up and turned brown. Also, the collector would have to predict the specific time period during which the seed was accessible and available for collection. And, until recently, all of this was done without the aid of GPS or iPads. Many of the seeds Ed Peterson collected were microscopic and sold by the teaspoonful, not by the pound, Ed told the Los Angeles Times in 1988. “You could start as an infant and die a centenarian, but you couldn’t gather 20 pounds of California fuchsia seed in your lifetime,” Ed said wistfully. Greg Rubin, San Diego native plant specialist, said of Ed, “One of his favorite spots was up in Ojai following one of the creeks up there. I remember him telling me a story about sitting on a hill near Griffith Park, hearing the cacophony of church bells celebrating the end of the war, and the profound joy he felt, and the shivers it sent down my spine when I realized he was referring to World War I!”
He told National Public Radio in a 1998 interview that he had missed hunting down seed for only one species he wanted: the red-flowered lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis var. pseudosplendens). Have you by any chance seen this plant in the wild?
Susan Krzywicki is a native plant landscape designer in San Diego. She has been the first Horticulture Program Director for the California Native Plant Society, as well as chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation Ocean Friendly Gardens Committee and is on the Port of San Diego BCDC for the Chula Vista Bayfront.