Letter of June 17, 1908

Blanche Trask, Poet-Explorer-Naturalist, did most of her California wild nature exploration and writing on the Channel Islands of Southern California. She was a resident of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island in Los Angeles County, California from 1895 to 1915 (20 Years). Her winter home was located next to the Tuna Club in Avalon, but she also had a summer home at the Isthmus where the Institute of Environmental Studies of USC is currently located. However, she did travel to all eight Channel Islands. One of the first islands that Blanche Trask visited after moving to Catalina Island, was San Nicolas Island. The letter to Katherine Brandegee presented below is particularly noteworthy in regard to demonstrating that Blanche Trask was developing new collecting/exploring interests. It seems that San Diego and possibly Baja were to become her new exploring grounds and that seashells and insects would be a new focus. It seems that she was going to no longer collect plants but rather focus on new aspects of natural history. Blanche Trask corresponed with many scientists, professors, and naturalists, one of whom was Katherine Brandegee (former Curator of Botany for the California Academy of Sciences and also affiliated with the University of California). Blanche Trask corresponded with professors and scientists at UC Berkeley, Harvard University, the Smithsonian, and with the California Academy of Sciences in San Franciso. It is plainly obvious that Blanche Trask is a excellent observer of the natural world and that the California Channel Islands is beyond a doubt where her "sense of place" resides. The Geography of Hope for Blanche Trask is undoubtedly Santa Catalina Island. Her knowledge of Catalina was enhanced by knowing the "sister" geographies of the other Channel Islands of southern California.

Blanche Trask wrote this letter on June 17, 1908. The letter that Blanche Trask wrote to Katherine Brandegee was apparently in response to a request for more detailed information on Dendromecon harfordi (Channel Islands Tree Poppy), a rare native plant found only on the Channel Islands and which has become quite rare on Catalina Island. The letter documents a detailed "ecology" and natural history of the Tree Poppy, most notably in its growth form and behavior, including the term, "prehensile," used for animals, but poetically applied here to a plant.

The above narrative and letter was written and compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek, June 17, 2000, for educational purposes in recognition of the 92'nd year anniversary of this letter being written. The original copy of this beautifully hand-written letter is archived at the University of California Berkeley at the Herbarium in the Brandegee Files.

Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California
June 17,1908

My Dear Mrs. Brandegee

In regard to the report published "-I cannot tell from your quotation but it sounds as though taken verbatum from the card accompanying the specimen of Dendromecon and what more would you wish me to say." All the facts are there stated in a sentence and and if the dimensions are startling one cannot help that.

Will you pardon me for saying that there are many more things of a peculiar nature here on these islands, than can be possibly seen in a few days. I have tramped thousands of miles here in the last 14 years and find the Dendromecons numbering beyondan even 100 - when I ceased to count longer!

You do not - indeed - find them a foot in diameter every day but occasionally and I have almost come to call them prehensile! for they reach and house their slender branches about other trees for support. Their roots are bulbous and are torn out of the craggy edges where they grow by the weight of the plant where it reaches a height of 6-8 feet generally if it lives longer it is due to its aid from the trees upon which it leans.

There are no young trees nor have I ever seen any "coming" from seeds although the pods produce well yearly. The plants are always in bloom - but more profusely in the winters - after rains come.

I have not been able to detect a increase in plants in size during these years and indeed I find the largest ones fallen and slipped from the loose soil continually.

They seem to choose the volcanic out-flows and the arid and hot state in those regions although there is one north slope among the groves of Lyon's Trees where they are exceptionally fine at about 500-1000 ft. elevation +++ Long ago in Mr. Brandegee's report from this island he mentions 10 groves as the maximum number (taken from Harry Polley): well - how anyone who knows the island can say that I cannot comprehend - for there are groves and groves and thousands of trees!

All my own herbarium was lost in Academy Science furing the fire - except - of course types which may have been saved by Miss Eastwood but I have sent entire collections to US National Museum and to St. Louis and to Kew and Edinburgh.

Of course - in these years a great deal has been added. I am glad to do whatever I can to aid in the verification of these additions - but this is not the time of year for collecting: besides - my collecting days are over practically!

For the past 5 years I have been devoting myself to the shells, the insects and especially to geology.

Each winter I hope to go down to San Diego to collect shells - but don not know when I shall do so.

Please let me hear from you frankly in regard to the additions. I often think it is a pity that nothing is ever done with all the specimens I have collected.

Most Truly
Blanche Trask

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