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Reid Moran with Ferocactus diguetii on Baja's Santa Catalina Island, with his trademark red hat.
With Ferocactus diguetii on Baja's Santa Catalina Island, with his trademark red hat

Side note:
The San Diego Natural History Museum’s Baja Flora website, has additional resources contributed by Reid Moran. His field notebooks have been scanned and indexed and can be read online. Example: the mule trip mentioned in the story begins on page 8135 (volume 8, page 135). Our large collections of photos of plants and places of the peninsula, many of them taken by Moran, can also be searched at that site.

Remembering Reid Moran: Legacy of a Botanist

Dr. Reid Moran, 1916 - 2010
Reid Moran, Ph.D.
1916 - 2010

Reid Moran, who served as Curator of Botany from 1957 to 1982, died in 2010 at age 93. He was not only a prominent and respected researcher in his own right, but also established the San Diego Natural History Museum as a leader in the floristics of the Baja California peninsula.

Clark Mahrdt, who worked in the herpetology department in the early 1970s, remembers his “untiring dedication and passion for his work in botany” and that “some evenings I would stay late at the museum and suddenly hear the steel cage security door open and close. It was Reid showing up around 10:00 p.m. walking briskly down the hallway to his office. The third floor was quiet then, without interruptions.”

Moran was the world authority on the Crassulaceae, a family of succulent plants, and in particular the genus Dudleya, subject of his Ph.D. dissertation. He named at least 18 plants new to science—some in that family and some not—and published many papers elucidating relationships within the Crassulaceae. And, as a mark of the respect he earned among his peers, more than a dozen plants have been named for him.

His long and productive career continued long after his official retirement. His Flora of Guadalupe Island, Mexico was published in 1996, when he was 80, and his treatment of the Crassulaceae for the Flora of North America was submitted a few years later. This appeared in Volume 8 of the FNA, issued only a few months before his death.

Those who knew and traveled with Reid during the last half of the last century remember him as a big, vigorous man, equally ready to climb to the highest peak or to sing to the weary gang around the campfire. According to Dick Schwenkmeyer, who sometimes co-led museum trips with Reid, he “knew every word of every Australian folk song and would have everyone singing along.”

He was famed as an explorer of Baja California, where he followed every dirt track—which in the old days was about all there were—into every remote corner and mountain range. Mules served where trucks could not go. One near disastrous three-month trek through the mountains of the central peninsula in 1964 resulted in the deaths of several animals: one to a mountain lion, and two to thirst. The people fortunately survived.

Guadalupe Island, a volcanic oceanic island 260 km west of the peninsula of Baja California, was Reid’s lifelong passion and his most visible direct contribution to conservation. His first visit to the island was in April 1948, just before his return to Berkeley to resume his graduate career interrupted by the war. His collecting notes record fourteen visits to the island from that date through 1981, the year before his retirement.

Reid Moran Examining a cholla growing as epiphyte on a Cirio.
Examining a cholla growing as epiphyte on a Cirio
He documented the near-complete destruction of plant life on that island due to the presence of feral goats. In his talks about the island one slide always got a laugh: a photo of his companions roasting a goat on a spit over the campfire, with his wry comment, “We met the enemy...and we ate him.” His reporting of the decline of plant life on the island is at least partly responsible for convincing the Mexican government to remove the goats a few years ago. This effort has resulted in remarkable recovery of vegetation including the establishment of the first successful seedlings in over a century of the endemic cypresses and pines.

A botanist’s legacy is built not only on the publications he has produced but also on the body of collections he has made. Moran’s work in Baja California established our museum as the leading institution (perhaps matched by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) in the floristics of the peninsula. At present count, some 13% of the 200,000 specimens in our herbarium (about 27,000 in all) were collected by him. His focus on the peninsula is demonstrated by the fact that nearly 90% of all the specimens he collected are from Baja California and Baja California Sur. These collections provide a physical record of the identification and distribution of plant species throughout the peninsula.

Dr. Moran making field collections.
Making field collections

These specimens, combined with the growing number of contributions of present curator Jon Rebman, provide a continuing resource for taxonomic research and conservation efforts in the peninsula. For example, these collections are currently being consulted by a team of botanists compiling a proposed list of sensitive species for protection under Mexican law. Because of uses like these, Reid’s work will continue to benefit the plants and the people of our region.

Read more... Reid Moran: Scientist was expert on plants from island off Baja, SignOn San Diego Obituary, posted February 2, 2010.