A Salute to Robert Raabe

By: Richard G Turner Jr

Richard G Turner Jr is the editor emeritus of Pacific Horticulture. After receiving degrees in architecture and landscape architecture from…

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When asked about favorite articles in Pacific Horticulture, most readers comment that they turn to the Laboratory Report when they first open a new issue of our quarterly journal. Dr Robert Raabe has been contributing that column for twenty-five years, educating and entertaining readers with his short articles on scientific advances in the worlds of horticulture, agriculture, plant pathology, and environmental restoration and reclamation.

Bob’s interest in plants began in his early teen years in Waukeshaw, Wisconsin. His father responded to a radio offering of thirty-seven plants for $1.25, which was a substantial sum during the depression. Most of the plants in the package were common trees and shrubs, some even weedy. Included were two gladiolus corms; although one died (perhaps diseased?), the other grew taller than Bob and produced a spike of bright red flowers. Bob was hooked, and he began ordering every seed and nursery catalog that he came across. (“It’s amazing how much one can learn from seed catalogs,” Bob notes.) He began buying plants with his own modest savings, gained from a newspaper route; then, as now, flowering plants interested him the most.

After a couple of years in the Navy, Bob entered the University of Wisconsin, intending to study forestry. When the engineering courses became too much, he switched majors to plant sciences. Recognizing his natural powers of observation, his plant pathology professor offered him a job working in the greenhouse on his research projects. Later, Bob received financial assistance to pursue plant pathology at the graduate level. He might have preferred floriculture or horticulture, but the prospect of working on diseases of ornamental plants was appealing, a decision that proved to be the right one when, after only a year of post-doctoral research, he was offered a position in the plant pathology department at the University of California, Berkeley.

Bob has now been with the university since 1952, except for a year at UC Davis and a year at the University of Hawaii. His research has mainly concerned root and foliage diseases of ornamental plants and their controls, resulting in over 450 publications. His teaching career included thirty-seven years of introductory plant pathology (until the university discontinued the courses), two years of forest pathology, and twenty-two years of how-to garden in urban areas. He continues to teach a course in plant disease problems at Merritt College in Oakland, a course that has had a twenty two- year run.

Though officially retired for the past eleven years, work still beckons Bob every day. He continues with research on plant pests and diseases, and averages almost one lecture a week for garden clubs, college classes, and UC Extension programs. He contributes a column for the quarterly newsletter of the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, where, for more than two decades, he has dedicated the first Saturday of each month to the sick plant clinic. Gardeners, both amateur and professional, are invited to bring in plants, or parts of plants, that are showing signs of disease, pest problems, or merely inadequate care. Bob identifies most of the problems instantly, and follows with an encouraging lecture on the care or treatment that will bring the plant back to good health. When stumped by a problem, he takes the leaf or stem sample back to his research laboratory for a thorough examination; he follows up with a letter or phone call to the plant’s owner, with advice on resolving the problem.

Bob is thrilled that his retirement affords him time to spend with his granddaughter. He still gardens avidly and photographs plants—both beautiful healthy flowers and sick plants. Until recently, he sang regularly with various community choirs and musical groups, including San Francisco’s noted Lamplighters, who regularly produce operettas from Gilbert and Sullivan and other composers.

That early experience with gladiolus opened the door to a lifetime of working with—and playing with—plants. In addition to his research and teaching, Bob enjoys a hobby of hybridizing garden flowers, and he continues to breed gladiolus— just for fun.

Bob scours both professional and academic journals to find nuggets of information that might appeal to our readers; it’s a time-consuming task but one that Bob approaches with gusto. It’s unlikely that editor George Waters ever imagined that the Laboratory Report would become such a popular, and longrunning, feature of our journal when he approached Bob about the column in 1989, but we’re glad that he proposed the idea and delighted that Bob seems unwilling to retire from this assignment.

We salute Dr Robert Raabe for his twenty-five years of service to Pacific Horticulture and the greater horticultural community.

RGT