I arrived in Southern California with my life condensed down to a couple suitcases and a feeling of excited anticipation that only comes from beginning a new adventure. I had flown across the country for an internship with the Seeds of Success (SOS) project at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, California. I was excited and a little anxious about beginning my new job in a place I’d never been before. Like the majority of CLM Interns, I majored in environmental science in college. The focus of my studies and previous employments was sustainable agriculture – researching methods to produce food that is both healthy for people and the planet. I know a lot about the environment in controlled settings, like on a farm, but haven’t had much exposure to studying natural lands. The SOS internship sounded like a prime opportunity to learn about an ecosystem that was completely different than any I had ever been exposed to and a chance to apply my background in environmental sciences off a farm.
Over the first few weeks on the job, I was inundated with new information. For example, the preferred language of botanists is Latin; I had forgotten this wasn’t truly a dead language. I had to quickly adjust to not using the common names of plants. I sometimes had difficulty placing the plant I was looking at in the correct family I was learning, let alone using Latin to name it. Rancho Santa Ana has a huge herbarium, which was also a new thing to me. I had been in one once before, but never appreciated all the work that goes into to making a useful herbarium specimen. Desert plants are obviously much different than those of the deciduous forests I lived amongst my whole life. At first glance, everything seemed so spiney and prickley. Once I learned to look beyond the defenses, I saw the wonderful beauty these beings exude . For a while, everything seemed so new that I felt I hardly knew anything.
I’m now in the third month of my internship and I have happily realized I recognize a lot of the plants I see. I even know some of the other plants I can expect to be close by. And because I spend about 25 hours a week working in the field, I’ve also learned a lot of the reptiles, mammals, and birds that are fortunate enough to call Southern California home.
It’s been a refreshing change to apply what I studied in college to new landscapes and to ecosystems that aren’t manipulated by man the way agroecosystems are. Now that I’ve began to make my way up the learning curve for Southern California botany, the HOT weather has arrived and the plants are drying up. I hope I can maintain what I’ve learned and continue to build to it. I want to be the type of environmental professional who knows how all the parts of an ecosystem are connected. This internship is helping me connect some strings of the web of life and I am enjoying the experience.