Sherwin Carlquist: 1930-2021 – The Santa Barbara Independent


Botanist Sherwin Carlquist believed that keeping plants indoors was a form of torture because they weren’t outdoors in a natural environment. In 1956, when he was 26, he designed his and his parents’ home, the Hope Ranch, by blending Japanese and mid-century modern design on a large lot with views of the Channel Islands. Less than a decade later, he had written his first landmark book on island biology and had begun to replace the lawn of Hope Ranch with botanical specimens from distant islands and continents.

Sherwin has made dozens of trips to islands around the world. In October 1966, he spent a week abandoned on a small atoll – the Pearl and Hermes Reef – 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu. Coast Guard cadets who had rowed it to a sandbar to study its plants were unable to move the tiny islet for several days when they returned to pick it up, its highest point almost invisible just eight feet above sea level.

Sherwin was stuck among some of his favorite research topics – the native plants of the Hawaiian island chain, the world’s most remote archipelago.

Her research on the island dates back to 1953, first during a Scripps Institute field trip to the Revillagigedo Islands southwest of Cabo San Lucas, and then in July when her mother, author Helen Bauer, gave him a cash gift for his 23rd birthday, which he used for a trip. in Hawaii.

Bauer had come to terms with her son’s passion for botany by then and might have regretted that she had reprimanded him when, as a teenager, he had “wasted money” buying research papers published by the California Academy of Science.

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In 1966 he was awarded that same Academy’s Fellowship Medal, and by the time of his death in December 2021, Sherwin himself had written over 300 published research papers and eight well-regarded books on botanical science.

This 1953 trip to Hawai’i was Sherwin’s first extensive fieldwork, work that lasted a lifetime. He hiked alone, a grad student just starting out in botany at UC Berkeley, later recalling, “I didn’t have much confidence in myself.” His instinctive curiosity and aptitude for observing plants and their surroundings had the perfect outdoor workshop as he descended into Maui’s Haleakala Crater and noticed the resinous scent of the iconic and charismatic silver swords, in full bloom. , growing where few plants can. top of a hard volcanic mountain.

He recognized the scent of the silver swords as similar to that of the tarweeds he had studied and picked up along the highway between his home in Southern California and the Berkeley campus. Upon further study, he concluded that the Hawaiian silverswords are relatives of the California tarweeds and must have arrived in Hawai’i via long-distance dispersal.

A relative of the Hawaiian silverswords, the rare genus of plants endemic to California Carlquista (Muir’s tarplant) was named in Sherwin’s honor in 1999. In 2003, 50 years after his olfactory discovery on Maui, he wrote about these plants in his edited book Tarweeds and Silverswords.

Sherwin’s fieldwork in 1953 was the beginning of his studies of how plants arrived on the islands and how they changed after their arrival. He considered the islands as the “laboratories of evolution”. Sherwin was controversial in concluding that many island species arrived on birds or by sea, not over land bridges or as islands transported away from continents. His research resulted in three important books: island life (1965), Hawaii: A Natural History (1970), and Island biology (1974). In island life he showed how long-distance dispersal could explain all of the native Hawaiian flora.

Beginning in the 1950s, one of Sherwin’s main research interests was the anatomy of wood. In 1966 he revolutionized the field of wood anatomy with a paper describing that wood is a key aspect of how plants adapt to different climates and grow into different shapes and sizes. In 1988, he published the most comprehensive book in the field, Comparative anatomy of wood, which is now entering its third edition.

While working in the field in Western Australia in 1974, Sherwin discovered many new plant species, including a new genus, Alexgeorgea, on the remote plain of white sand near Jurien Bay. It was the world’s first known wind-pollinated plant with underground female flowers.

Sherwin loved sports cars and photography. One of his students, Gary Wallace, recently recalled collecting trips to the desert with Sherwin in his tiny Porsche 914. Over several decades he took hundreds of thousands of photographs of plants using his favorite Hasselblad camera. In darkrooms, he develops and prints all his own black and white photos. As a poor postdoctoral student at Harvard, he spent the Christmas holidays of 1955 sleeping on blotters of plant press on the floor of the Herbarium’s darkroom, undetected by security guards. He once threw away all his packed clothes on his return from Australia so he could bring back 40 pounds of exposed film from his fieldwork in his plane luggage.

Sherwin’s passions for photography, the outdoors, and the male human form coalesced in his 10-book publication – the natural man series – of his photographs of natural men in the natural environment. Many photographs were taken in the unusual garden of his Hope Ranch home, as well as in Joshua Tree, Big Sur and the Sierra. He was honored when the Leslie-Lohman Museum in New York produced a solo exhibition of his natural man photographs in 2009, which he was very proud to witness in person.

Sherwin Carlquist was born in Los Angeles in 1930 and grew up admiring the living botanical collections of the nearby Huntington Library. Educated at Berkeley and Harvard, he spent 37 years on the faculty of Claremont Colleges and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

While living in Los Angeles, he developed a long friendship with Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a UCLA psychologist and founding researcher, whose studies for the National Institute of Mental Health recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality and the decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its textbook. of Troubles in 1973. Sherwin met many of Dr. Hooker’s friends, including Christopher Isherwood and his partner, Don Bachardy, and with her enjoyed a wide circle of friends in the then mostly underground gay community of Los Angeles, as well as the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations, established in Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

Sherwin returned to Santa Barbara full-time after retiring in 1993. He transferred his research to the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden, where he intensified his work with the scanning electron microscope, which yielded information not available on the optical microscope. , and worked as an adjunct professor at UCSB.

After spending 30 years developing his unique multicontinental botanical garden on Via Huerto in Hope Ranch, he was able to spend more time enjoying the birds and other animals that visited the Echiums from the Canary Islands; Schotia, an African legume; puya, a South American bromeliad; Ficus petiolaris, a white-barked Mexican fig tree; and a wonderful sticky fruit fish from Hawaii’i.

Sherwin also found time to volunteer as a receptionist at the Pacific Pride Foundation and Cottage Hospital. Young gays seeking therapy services and visitors to the hospital probably wouldn’t have known that the soft-spoken gentleman at reception had been doing botanical field work in New Zealand’s subantarctic islands at Southern Africa and South America; mounted daring helicopter expeditions to the remote plateau of Arnhem Land in northern Australia, funded by national Geographical; climbed the highest peak in New Caledonia; and was once abandoned on a remote Hawaiian atoll – nor that he had received awards from the Smithsonian Institution, the Linnean Society of London and the Botanical Society of America, as well as being named a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow .

Instead, they reportedly met a man who asked how he could help them.

In 2012, at age 82, Sherwin wrote to a colleague, “If I have a legacy to leave, it inspires people to go further and do their own thing. 


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