Decades of Dieter: The Garden Jewel Retires

AFTER TWENTY YEARS of brilliant service at the Garden, our Director of Conservation, Dieter Wilken, is set to retire

June 26, 2013

Tricia Wardlaw, SBBG Ironwood, Summer 2013

Those who have had the pleasure of working with him, attending his classes, or just spending time chatting with him have experienced his contagious excitement and passion for botany and plant conservation. Dieter’s dedicated outlook and friendly approach to botany invited others to learn about and experience native plants in a very personal and profound way.

Reflecting on his time at the Garden, Dieter says he is most proud of establishing the Garden’s Conservation program, building the SBBG Conservation Seed Collection, and conducting his various research and restoration projects focused on the plants of the California Channel Islands and Central Coast region.

Dieter Wilken’s work embodied the Garden’s mission and role as a respected member of the national Center for Plant Conservation (CPC). His applied conservation research of the California flora included field studies focused on documenting rare plants in a wide range of habitats, as well as studies of the reproductive biology of rare plants grown at the Garden. It would be neglectful not mentioning his great endeavor to keep the SBBG Herbarium and Garden staff up to date on current plant taxonomy.

Dieter is looking forward to filling his retirement spending time with his wife Dr. Elizabeth Painter, and visiting various museums and historic places around Southern California. He will also complete his taxonomic treatment of Ipomopsis for the Flora of North America and continue an ongoing herbarium project at UCSB’s Cheadle Center. He plans to return to the Garden as a volunteer in the Herbarium and looks forward to spending time “raking Garden trails, and pulling weeds.”

Given his remarkable recollection of plants, people, places, and events and his fascination with the great botanical explorers in world history, it is suitable that Dieter would like to spend some of his retirement years following in the footsteps of William Brewer, exploring Up and Down in California or even the botanical “black holes” in the American West. This is no surprise to those of us who know him, as his life’s work so far is already the stuff of which botanical pioneers are made.

FOR A BOTANIST, surely there is no finer flattery than having your life’s work reflected for eternity in plant names.
Dieter Wilken has not one, but three plants named by fellow botanists in his honor:
• image of Collomia wilkenii, photo courtesy Leigh JohnsonCollomia wilkenii L.A. & R.L. Johnson

• image of Erigeron wilkenii isotype herbarium specimen, courtesyErigeron wilkenii O'Kane (Dieter’s Daisy, Wilken’s Fleabane)

• image of Astragalus oophorus var. wilkenii, courtesy Brigham Young UniversityAstragalus oophorus S. Watson var. wilkenii S.L. Welsh

Now, the time of Dieter's retirement has come

The Garden Staff and Volunteers lament Dieter’s departure and are forever grateful for his contributions, both to the Garden, and to the botanical community. He knows much the rest of us do not and is an invaluable resource.

We appreciate the dedication of our “new volunteer” who joins the tremendous rank of others dedicated to our mission. Dieter is leaving the Garden in good hands, as Denise Knapp, our new Conservation Manager, prepares to take the reins.

The Garden staff will endeavor to do as Dieter has done, and continue to foster the conservation of California’s native plants through our gardens, education, and research.

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