Robert Ornduff, 1932-2000

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Professor emeritus Robert Ornduff died September 22, 2000 in Berkeley from complications of metastatic melanoma. Bob was a field botanist par excellence with a career spanning thirty-seven years at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Bob was one of the treasures of the botanical world, a green-thumb botanist who delighted in growing plants and disseminating his interest to the general public” according to Art Kruckeberg, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Bob’s research interests were broad and focused on different aspects of the evolution of species diversity through mechanisms that promote out-crossing and the endemism that develops on small ocean islands or granite outcrops. He wrote more than a hundred scientific papers and many others on horticultural and related topics, including several for Pacific Horticulture. His Introduction to California Plant Life (UC Press, 1974), still in print, has introduced generations of students to California’s unique flora.

As director of the UC Botanical Garden from 1973 to 1991, Bob greatly expanding its plant collections, particularly through his own research in areas with mediterranean climates similar to that in California: Western Australia, Chile, and South Africa. Though he retired as director of the garden in 1991, a walk through the garden today provides numerous reminders of the affection and esteem in which he is held at the garden: a Robert Ornduff classroom in constant use; an oversized picnic table and benches dedicated to Bob (“a large table for a large man”); and a freshwater plant display named for Bob that he affectionately called the horse trough. And then there are the countless plants he brought to the garden from his many trips to far-flung places—over 1100 collections from twenty-three countries.

It was perhaps the vastly expanded Friends of the Garden program, however, that pleased Bob the most. In an interview shortly before his death he commented that its growth and evolution was one of his greatest pleasures. Peter Raven, his friend, fellow graduate student, and currently director of the Missouri Botanical Garden stated that “turning the UC Botanical Garden into a world-class garden and leading place for studying and displaying the unique variety of California plants was one of his greatest contributions.” In recommending Bob for an Award of Merit by the Botanical Society of America (given in 1993), Sherwin Carlquist, a research botanist at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, commented that, even though small in size, the UC Botanical Garden “is without a doubt, the most significant botanical garden in the United States, acre for acre.”

Bob grew up near a golf course in Portland, Oregon and, from his early childhood, delighted in collecting all manner of animals, great and small. He graduated from Washington High School and nearby Reed College. Following a Fulbright scholarship in New Zealand, he received a Master’s degree from University of Washington with Art Kruckeberg, who had earlier turned him on to a career in botany. In 1961, he received his PhD in botany from the UC Berkeley. After short teaching stints at Reed College and Duke University, Bob was invited to UC Berkeley to fill the chair of retiring Herbert Mason, who had been his major professor. Among numerous assignments at the University, he served as director of the Jepson and University herbaria (1967-1982), chairman of the Botany Department (1986-1989), and chairman of the Editorial Committee, University of California Press (1975-1989). Since 1999 Bob had served as co-editor of the Natural History Series at UC Press.

In 1991, Bob became the grants director for the Stanley Smith Horticultural Foundation and through this program supported many horticultural and garden projects. He has received many awards and has contributed generously to numerous non-profit and professional organizations. Among these, he served on the board of directors of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation from 1992-1999.

Phyllis M Faber