Monday, August 11, 2014

Community Highlight - Peggy Rockwood

Responses by Peggy Rockwood, Pepperwood Volunteer

Peggy with her grandson Leo
How long have you been a Volunteer with Pepperwood?
Well, I volunteered at a couple of Wildflower Festivals even before there was such a thing as the fabulous Dwight Center and the Stephen J. Barnhart Herbarium. Then once the center was built and the herbarium was functional, I started collecting, identifying and mounting plant specimens in 2011.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in Pepperwood. What keeps you motivated?
I am a plant taxonomy nerd. I have a degree in biology with an emphasis in botany; my master’s thesis was a flora and vegetation map of a 1200 acre ranch – and it was so incredible hiking through the grasslands, woodlands, forests, chaparral, brambles, creeks (even with the close encounters with snakes, skunks and mountain lions) and finding all the hidden and not so hidden plants. I loved peering at the plants through my microscope to find their true scientific names, pressing them, mounting them and the idea of having them preserved for posterity in an herbarium.

Collecting native thistle on Telegraph Hill
I worked briefly as a consultant doing plant surveys on properties whose owners were applying for development permits. Doing that, I saw many incredible botanical treasures that there was no way to preserve, and it was often heart breaking. I now work at SRJC as a lab assistant for the biology majors classes. (As matter of fact, a couple important staff members and many volunteers are former students of mine, and I love them, every one.) I made field trips to Pepperwood in that capacity when it was still owned by the California Academy of Sciences and so I knew at least a little bit about the diversity of habitats and was intrigued by the potential for study.

Then, when I was asked to volunteer with getting the new herbarium up and running, I jumped at the opportunity. Getting to be involved with the building of a new herbarium is an exciting honor. There is so much potential for ecological disaster and loss of species at this point, that documenting what plants are where and preserving that knowledge (and the DNA) seems like some little (important) thing I can do with my somewhat obscure knowledge and skill set.  

What projects have you worked on?
As you may have guessed, I volunteer for the herbarium. I helped with the major revision of the Pepperwood Preserve Vascular Flora to reflect the scientific name changes in the second addition of The Jepson Manual. I continue to revise and update the Pepperwood Preserve Vascular Flora with additional plant taxa and locations that we are finding every season. I also collect, ID, press, mount, and sometimes help file my specimens. First I get to go hiking (if you can call what a botanist does really hiking), then I get to peer through my microscope, then I get to play with glue – what could be more fun?

What are three words that describe Pepperwood to you?
Peaceful, Vibrant, Significant

What does your experience at Pepperwood mean to you?
A small way to leave an important lasting contribution to the scientific knowledge that may help in preserving this amazing biosphere of ours.
Collecting in serpentine grassland west of Three Tree Hill

What’s the most surprising thing you've learned or seen at Pepperwood?
How really, very, very steep Telegraph Hill actually is and all the cool plants that live there.

What’s the one thing you’d want to share with someone who is thinking about volunteering?
Fabulous place, fabulous people, multitudes of opportunities, feel good about having fun.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cook, garden, read novels, but mostly I hang out with my newest best friend, my grandson. I’m teaching him to love plants (well, all outside) – we stop and sniff all the flowers we see, we listen to the birds sing and try to find them hiding in the trees, some day he may just surprise his parents and speak in Latin to them – Nemophila heterophylla, or Pseudotsuga menziesii, or…

 Interested in volunteering? Check our website for info on monthly Volunteer Workdays or send us an email.

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