Mike Park and David Gowen, two local botanists, were presented with Save Mount Diablo‘s Mary Bowerman Award for Science and Discovery on August 28th, 2010.  These two botanists are well known for their academic work and tireless devotion to the flora of the East Bay.

David Gowen, Lime Ridge Navarretia-5-22-08 (Scott Hein)

David Gowen, Lime Ridge Navarretia-5-22-08 (photo: Scott Hein)

Mount_Diablo Buckwheat_MPark5-20-05_Scott Hein-SaveMountDiablo

Mike Park with Mount Diablo Buckwheat (Photo Scott Hein)

Congrats David and Mike!   Here’s the writeup from Save Mount Diablo.

David Gowen, Michael Park
2010 Mary Bowerman Award for Science and Discovery
To recognize individuals who have conducted ground breaking research or made important discoveries.

David Gowen is self-trained, an amateur but expert botanist.  He stumbled on botany, “Plants were just another reason to be outside wandering around looking at things,” and he stumbled on Mt. Diablo, on a California Native Plant Society hike in 1990, despite having lived in the area for thirty years.  Trips to Mt. Diablo often included an elusive target, a pretty little pink wildflower called the Mt. Diablo buckwheat.  Save Mount Diablo co-founder Mary Bowerman was the last person to record seeing the buckwheat, in 1936, and local botanists referred to it as the “Holy Grail” of East Bay botanists.  Gowen researched historic locations of the plant and visited them all with no luck.  Over the years Save Mount Diablo organized a number of plant trips to look for the Mt. Diablo buckwheat, and David attended one on the east side of the Mangini Ranch, near a historic location of the plant.  The theory was that the plant lived near the edge of chaparral and from the historic location Gowen could see similar elevation habitat to the west on Lime Ridge.  He took his first trip there in 1998 and, although he didn’t find the buckwheat, he did find an interesting little Navarretia he didn’t recognize.  On another trip he found another plant new to him, an Eriastrum, or Woollystar.  The two plants are similar looking, two pretty wildflowers which resemble star shaped, flower-studded pin cushions.  Over the next few years, David went from expert to expert trying to identify the two plants, in the process becoming one of the world’s experts on Navarretias and Eriastrums.  What was finally established was that, less than 3 miles from downtown Walnut Creek in an area quarried for a hundred years, he had discovered not one but two plants brand new to science, both critically endangered

Meanwhile, the search for the Mt. Diablo buckwheat continued.  One of the key players was Barbara Ertter at U.C. Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium.  Mary Bowerman had been assigned Mt. Diablo, where she saw the wildflower, in 1930 for a graduate student thesis project.  Sixty two years later another graduate student, Michael Park, was given a similar assignment by Ertter, who had helped update Bowerman’s book about the plants of Mount Diablo.  She assigned Michael Park a large area; he made over 90 field visits to Mt. Diablo, always with the buckwheat in the back of his mind.  On May 10, 2005 Park took a different route into his study area.  “I was looking at a common plant which likes rock outcroppings and was wondering why it was growing on sand when I realized that I was surrounded by early blooming buckwheat.  I decided I needed a closer look since I didn’t recognize it and then realized ‘this is something new’.  Once I realized that it was the Mount Diablo buckwheat I was in shock.”  There were just 15 plants and in searches since 2005 no other locations have been found—there is just one wild population of the wildflower in the entire world.  The location was kept secret, but it’s on a property that Save Mount Diablo protected.  When we made the media announcement about the rediscovery, it was a sensation, and the news went around the world in less than 24 hours.  Park collected a few hundred seeds from the wild plants.  They were propagated at the Botanical Garden at U.C. Berkeley the next spring resulting in about 45,000 seeds the first year and another 200,000 seeds the following year.  Seeds are preserved in several seed banks and for several years more areas have been planted on Mt. Diablo.  The plant is no longer on the brink of extinction and you can see it blooming every spring at the U.C. botanical garden.  For five years Michael Park has helped lead the working group which manages the plant and its reintroductions, has conducted research and has become the expert on the Mt. Diablo buckwheat.

Mary Bowerman died in late 2005 but, before she did, we were able to show her photographs of the Mt. Diablo buckwheat that no one else alive had ever seen.  She was especially pleased that it was found by a Michael Park, a graduate student.  By the time David Gowen’s research came to a conclusion, plans were being made for new communication towers at the peak of Lime Ridge, in the newly discovered plants’ habitat.  Save Mount Diablo used announcement of the discoveries to influence the debate.  There will be no new towers and we seem close to agreement with the City of Walnut Creek and the current tower operator to remove the old towers after a final seven year period during which research will continue, then restoration will begin.

For the search for the Mt. Diablo buckwheat, during which David Gowen discovered not one but two new and critically endangered plants, Gowen’s Navarretia and the Lime Ridge Woollystar, in the process becoming the worlds’ expert on them, and for helping to stop the communication towers that threatened them;

For his amazing perseverance, expertise, and thousands of hours of work during which Michael Park rediscovered the Mt. Diablo buckwheat, a wildflower not seen in 69 years, and then helped research, propagate and reintroduce the plant to other locations on Mt. Diablo, in the process dramatically improving its long term chance of survival;

For their work in revealing symbols of Mt. Diablo’s mystery and biological richness, Save Mount Diablo awards the first ever Mary Bowerman Awards for Science and Discovery to David Gowen and Michael Park.