Documenting Los Angeles’ Earliest Residents:
Native Plants and Ernest Braunton in Los Angeles Before Automobiles
(Endangered Plants, Rare Habitats and Environmental History)
-Project Proposal-
by
Robert ‘Roy’ J. van de Hoek
Wetlands Action Network
2001


Ernest Braunton collected over 1,281 plants in Los Angeles, between 1892-1902, a time before automobiles, before major pollution and overpopulation. He explored L.A. by “light” rail. He was a landscape architect who helped design the first native plant botanical garden, the now famous Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. For Los Angeles County, he was “one of its most diligent explorers” (Parish, 1903).

The two famous botanists at the Universities of Stanford and Berkeley, LeRoy Abrams and Willis Jepson respectively, cited Braunton’s collections in their books and articles. For example, Jepson said: “As pointed out by Ernest Braunton, its discoverer, the stems in Astragalus brauntonii tend to be much the same hue as the rest of the plant, whereas in A. pychnostachys the stems are greenish in contrast to the tomentose leaves.” Another botanist, Samuel Parish, recognized Ernest Braunton’s contribution with the name, Astragalus brauntonii, while Willis Jepson coined the vernacular name: “Granite Loco.” Braunton discovered Granite Loco in Los Angeles, near Sherman, and Parish described it in the Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences in 1903. “Sherman” was located near the Wilshire Boulevard “light” rail line, east of UCLA, near the La Brea Tarpits. In 1966, two UCLA botanists (Peter Raven and Henry Thompson), noted Granite Loco as “very rare” in the Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains. Jepson listed “Granite Loco” as found at Cienega, Culver City, and Malibu. Another native plant, the delicate “Elysian Hills Live-For-Ever,” Dudleya brauntonii, (=D. lanceolata) was found in Elysian Hills Park.

Braunton seems to have had that unique ability to find new native plants, either now endanger of extinction, or native plants now in sensitive habitats such as river wetlands, coastal dunes, and coastal sage scrub. He is unique for having collected plants on the Los Angeles River, Hermosa Beach Sand Dunes, Ballona Wetlands, and the Santa Monica Mountains. Braunton’s collections included Dithyrea maritima (Beach Spectacle Pod), now recognized as an endangered species by the State of California. Braunton collected the Spectacle Pod at Hermosa Beach, and used “light” rail to arrive at the sand dune, then explored and collected sand dune plants, while he sauntered on the beach and sand dunes.

Two other native plants, Cyperus niger capitatus, a reed, and Juncus torreyi, a rush, are found on river wetlands. These were collected on the Los Angeles River, where Ernest Braunton would have tramped in the water, mud, and muck to collect them. Another native plant, Horkelia cuneata (Silver Plant), found on “sand flats,” is nearly obliterated in Los Angeles County. It was found by Braunton at Ballona in Playa del Rey, where it is now “locally extinct,” but in need of recovery. “Silver Plant” barely holds on in Los Angeles County, persisting only at Point Dume State Park. Another native plant, Delphinium parryi, a “prairie” Larkspur, also rare in Los Angeles was found at Playa del Rey by Ernest Braunton, but is currently extirpated and in need of both recovery and restoration in the “Greater Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem.”

Reconstructing Ernest Braunton’s collections via his “saunters” in Los Angeles, will go a long way to recovering and restoring natural processes in the new urban California State Parks of Los Angeles County. Due to Braunton’s collections and explorations, we know some of the native plants that need to be restored and recovered on the Los Angeles River, Ballona Wetlands, Santa Monica Mountains, Baldwin Hills, San Gabriel River, and Chino Hills. Samuel Parish, in his 1920 report on alien plants, reported eight aliens found by Braunton. It is clearly evident, that Ernest Braunton guides us today, as to those native plants to recover-restore and those “alien weeds” to eradicate from California State Parks. Imagine if a compilation and analysis of all 1,281+ plants collected by Ernest Braunton were conducted, by research at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the University of California at Berkeley? The results of the research would not only elucidate our “natural landscapes” and “early native plant residents,” but provide us the opportunity to have a dynamic revisionist “Environmental History” of Los Angeles, correcting the “dry sterile school-book history” with its non-environmental emphasis.



Appendix 1
Selected Native Plants Collected by Ernest Braunton, Before 1903

# # ..... Year .... Location ................. Scientific Name ..... Reference-Source
017 .... 1892 ... Sherman ................. Brickellia nevinii ... Abrams 1910 (p.465)
110 .... 1892 ... Cienega .................. Potentilla pacifica ...Munz & Johnston 1935 (US)
205 .... 1892 ... North Pomona ........ Horkelia cuneata ... Munz & Johnston 1935 (UC)

258 .... 1902 ... Unknown location ... Abronia variabilis Standl., UC56248 Isotype, May 25 1902

288 .... 1892 ... Hermosa Beach ....... Dithyrea maritima ... Jepson 1936
362 .... 1892 ... Sherman .................. Ribes speciosum ... Abrams 1910 (p.371)
455 .... 1892 ... Ballona ................... Horkelia cuneata ... Jepson 1936
559 .... 1892 ... Rio Los Angeles ...... Juncus torreyi ... Raven &Thompson 1966
566 .... 1892 ... Rio Los Angeles ..... Cyperus niger capitatus ... Raven & Thompson 1966
749 .... 1892 ... Elysian Hills Park ... Lupinus formosus ... Raven & Thompson 1966
819 .... 1892 ... Elysian Hills Park ... Lupinus bicolor ... Raven & Thompson 1966
858 .... 1902 ... Playa del Rey ...........Delphinium parryi ... Jepson 1936
869 .... 1902 ... Elysian Hills Park ... Dudleya lanceolata* ... Jepson 1936; Rose 1905
882 .... 1902 ... Elysian Hills Park ... Dudleya lanceolata* ... Jepson 1936; Rose 1905
1281 .. 1902 ... Sherman ................. Astragalus brauntonii ... Parish 1903; Jepson 1936
____ .. 1902 ... Glendale, near L.A. .. Psilocarphus tenellus ... Parish 1904; Longcore 1997

*Note: Dudleya brauntonii was found not to be distinct and merged into Dudleya lanceolata.



Appendix 2
Selected Alien Plants Collected by Ernest Braunton, 1892-1905

# # .. Year .... Location ......... Scientific Name ..... Reference + Voucher Note
____ 1892 ... Rivera ............ Daucus carota ... Parish 1920
____ 1896 ... Compton ........ Lactuca scariola integrifolia ... Parish 1920 “quite troublesome in places”
____ 1902 ... Los Angeles ... Cyperus esculentus ... Parish 1920
____ 1902 ... Los Angeles ... Amaranthus deflexus ... Parish 1920
____ 1902 ... Los Angeles ... Solanum eleagnifolium ... Parish 1920 “at a single station”
____ 1902 ... Sherman ........ Cichorium intybus ... Parish 1920
____ 1903 ... Playa del Rey .. Daucus carota ... Parish 1920
____ 1902 ... Vernon ........... Galinsoga parviflora ... Parish 1920 “abundant along ditches”
____ 1905 ... Los Angeles ... Cakile edentula ... Parish 1907


According to a Google search on UC Berkeley's Jepson Herbarium, I discovered that a type species of a sand dune plant was collected by Ernest Braunton as Abronia variabilis Standl., UC56248 Isotype, Ernest Braunton 258, May 25 1902.