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THE REAL DIRT ON: Peter Raven, Biodiversity Maven

By Susan Krzywicki.

Peter Raven is the beloved American botanist and environmentalist who has advised the Pope, run the famed Missouri Botanical Garden, and started the Center for Plant Conservation, which he recently moved from St. Louis to the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Raven was born in Shanghai, China to American parents, but threat of war with Japan led the Raven family to move back to the Bay Area. He is a University of California, Berkeley graduate, with a Ph.D. in botany from UCLA. Peter taught biology at Stanford University before becoming director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the nation's oldest botanical garden and a National Historic Landmark. In collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, the Missouri Botanic Garden created the comprehensive online resource, The Plant List, which you may be familiar with.

Biodiversity is Essential

In a recent Nature Magazine article entitled “Biodiversity: Extinction by numbers,” Raven and co-author Stuart Pimm wrote, “How large will be the loss of species through human activities? And over what time period might that loss unfold? Habitat destruction is the leading cause of species extinction. Generally, many of the species found across large areas of a given habitat are represented in smaller areas of it. So habitat loss initially causes few extinctions [and] the peak of extinctions might not occur for decades.”


The miracle of Peter Raven is not his powers of observation and clarity of vision, his brilliance as a botanist, nor the fact that he intuitively “gets” the mini-details of microevolution while also grokking the macro story of California’s remarkable flora. It is that this is all brought together in one unusually likable human being. In conversation with Peter he will smoothly transition from speculating about year-to-year dynamics of Clarkias statewide, to his ambitious plan to back up California’s flora, and conclude with him quoting Nirvana as he shares personal recollections of undeveloped San Francisco dunes. He is a leader, an inspiration, a singularly great role model even in this post-role model era.

Daniel Gluesenkamp, Executive Director of the California Native Plant Society


Consumption and Science

As a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Raven was quoted on St. Louis Public Radio as saying, “The pope is so widely accepted as a world leader in these areas that I can only hope that his words will help to accelerate the negotiations about climate, about discharge of more greenhouse gases, and put a new level of serious debate into the discussion.” Raven continues to voice his message on overpopulation and overconsumption, and how we can save both plant and human life. He is forceful and animated in his call for us to consume less and pay attention to the natural world. And that, my fellow horticultural enthusiasts, is what we are doing.


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.

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