Of Cameras and Coffeecake: Welcoming More People to Learning about Native Plants

by Orchid Black, newly-elected chapter president

(reprinted with permission from the The Paintbrush, Spring 2012, California Native Plant Society, San Gabriel Mountains Chapter)

With a few simple tools, their cameras, loaves of coffeecake, as well as name tags and the email list, leavened with intense enthusiasm for everything to do with native plants, Gabi and Cliff McLean expanded the memgbership of our chapter and created a culture of welcoming that extended to other parts of the CNPS organization, making it easy for new people to come in and learn about plants and strengthening our organizaion on many levels.

Gabi, our outgoing President, and Cliff, our current Membership Chair, became members in 1995 after taking the Eaton Canyon Docent Training while the chapter was still meeting in the temporary trailers. Wanting to learn more about plants, they started taking picturess and bringing them to Mickey Long for identification. This led to a book of photos of plants, the predecessor to the book still at the Nature Center, and ultimately to the two commercial plant identification CDs and an iPhone app. Before their efforts, there was little in the way of plant ID materials for our region. Cliff states that Gabi has taken approximately 115,000 photos of plants, animals, and nature scenes, plus over 6,000 of their garden, noting dryly that only a small portion has been identified.

In identifying their photos, they learned the plants and became trip leaders, leading over 22 walks and many field trips for our chapter, plus many more for other organizations. In the spirit of helping others learn, they used their photos in evening programs, starting an ongoing series of Plant ID workshops, and created our welcome display. Gabi's photos have also appeared in the many articles she has written for The Paintbrush.

Showing their willingness to be of service, Gabi joined the board as Member-at-Large, and then, with Cliff, became joint Hospitality Chair in 2001, setting a tradition for home-baked goods that continues both at the program meetings and at chapter board meetings today. They co-chaired Member Services from 2001 to 2006. Their method of giving new attendees a name tag and putting them on the email notification list allowed non-members to stay connected to CNPS and become members. Gabi was elected President of the chapter in Fall 2005 and Cliff was elected Vice-president, but chose later to revert to Membership Chair.

Few people in the chapter realize that the chapter president also serves as a delegate to the CNPS Chapter Council (CC), an entity that advises the Board of Directors of CNPS and the CNPS Administration in Sacramento of issues at the grassroots level. Gabi and Cliff have helped to host the CC meeting in Claremont every March, and have traveled statewide to attend these quarterly meetings, the CNPS Conferences, and meeting on conservation issues.

During Gabi's tenure as president, she pushed for more conservation activity from the chapter. Cliff and Gabi attended numerous pubic meetings, and supported and authored letters from the chapter on local conservation issues.

Though a comparatively small chapter, we have won many awards from CNPS as a whole during this time. Gabi's strategies for increasing membership at plant sales allowed membership in increase by over 20%, which earned an award from the state CNPS. While under her leadership, the SGM chapter has also won awards for the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt and conducted the Lily Spring Area Survey. At the state level, the SGM chapter is recognized as one of the more active chapters.

Athough an increasing number of Gabi's photos are now of Cliff and Gabi's new grandchild, Gabi continues to serve on our chapter board, and Cliff continues as Membership Chair. Their dedicated commitment to learning and teaching, to service and activism, and to cameras and coffeecake have allowed our chapter to flourish, and we thank them.

Graham Bothwell, Jane Strong, and Mickey Long contributed to this article.

Gabi and Cliff were presented with the CNPS Volunteer Recognition Award for assuming leadership roles and for contributing in significant ways to CNPS programs, at the Chapter Council meeting in March.

Keywords: Gabi McLean, Cliff McLean, Gabriele McLean, Clifford McLean, Nature at Hand, Gabi Horn, Gabriele Horn, Plants of the San Gabriel Mountains: Foothills and Canyons, Plants of the San Gabriels, California native plants, Pasadena, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, San Gabriel Valley, Southern California, Altadena, Covina, natural, nature photography, photograph, environmental education, naturalist, docent, hike, hiking, CD-ROM, California native garden, gardening, flowers, wildflowers, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, California Native Plant Society, CNPS, Eaton Canyon Nature Center Associates, ECNCA