Riding the Train to New Orleans, Louisiana To Learn About Prairies, Marshes, and Mountains of Los Angeles:

Researching Joseph Ewan’s 1930s Exploration of
Southern California Wetlands and San Gabriel Mountains

Robert Roy van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Wetlands Action Network

On February 25, 1928, Joseph Ewan explored the Ballona Wetlands and found evidence of two rare birds: California Loggerhead Shrike and California Black Rail. He found the evidence of these two birds utilizing habitat of the Salicornia habitat along a fence bordering the electric train route in Playa del Rey (Ewan, 1928).

The next evidence of Joseph Ewan exploring southern California is in 1931-1932, when he collected native plants in wetlands at Calabasas, Culver City, Newport Bay, Huntington Beach, Corona del Mar, Baldwin Hills, and near Playa del Rey on Ballona Creek at the Mesmer roadside.

One interesting observation is the use of the phrase “winter pools” by Joseph Ewan indicates that the term of vernal pool had not been coined as yet. It would not be until 1936 that I detect the first use of vernal pool in the scientific ecological literature by Edith Purer, about four years later.

The proposed research at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, is to locate more plant vouchers by using his field notebooks for 1931-1932 to see if he collected more plants in coastal wetlands of southern California during those years. The information gleaned will be useful for restoration and recovery of plants and animals at the wetlands of southern California.

Another investigative arm of research is to locate some of the many collections in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California by Joseph Ewan.

Selected Joseph Ewan Plant Vouchers of 1931-1932: 1931
4221 May 16, 1931 Anemopsis californica (Yerba Mansa); UCLA 52044; Near spring, Dry Canyon near Calabasas, slow stream.

4222-4299 ..... May-June 1931
4300-4399 ..... May-June 1931
4400-4499 ..... May-June 1931
4500-4599 ..... May-June 1931
4600-4699 ..... May-June 1931
4700-4752 ..... May-June 1931

4753 July 31, 1931 Typha angustifolia (Cat-tail); UCLA 6893; Westfall near Huntington Beach, Orange Co., growing with T. latifolia.

7431 July 31, 1932Spergularia palustris (Sand Spurry); no UCLA #. Older plants, on even drier ground than #7430. North base of Baldwin Hills, near Culver City.

7432 April 30, 1932 Distichlis spicata (Saltgrass); UCLA 7432; abundant in saline ground Pacific Electric Right-of-way Culver City. .....

7433 ..... April 30, 1932 .....?
7434 ..... April 30, 1932 .....?
7435 ..... April 30, 1932 .....?
7436 ..... April 30, 1932 .....?
7437 ..... April 30, 1932 .....?

7438 April 30, 1932 Spergularia macrotheca leucantha (Sand Spurry); UCLA no #. Moist ground of drying winter pool. Mesa at north end of Baldwin Hills, Culver City. Upper Sonoran Zone.

7439 ..... Aprl 30, 1932 ..... ?
7440 ..... Aprl 30, 1932 .....?
7441 ..... Aprl 30, 1932 .....?

7442 April 30, 1932. Chenopodium hybridium; UCLA no #. “Rank roadside weed” Ballona Creek at Mesmer. Beta vulgaris as annotated by Peter Raven in 1963 on voucher.

7701 July 28, 1932. Frankenia salina; UCLA 91,304; Lush clumps in moist sand of ravine, Corona del Mar.

7702 ..... July 28, 1932 ..... ?
7703 ..... July 28, 1932 ..... ?
7704 ..... July 28, 1932 ..... ?
7705 ..... July 28, 1932 ..... ?
7706 ..... July 28, 1932 ..... ?
7707 ..... July 28, 1932 ..... ?
7708 ..... July 28, 1932 ..... ?

7709 July 28, 1932 Spartina foliosa; DUD 704,998; Orange County, east end of Newport Bay, colonizing above low tide.

Ewan, Joseph. 1928. From Field and Study - California Black Rail in Los Angeles County. Condor 30: 247.

Arnold, A. 2000. Joseph Andorfer Ewan: portrait. Archives of Natural History 27(3):288.

Jackson, I. 2000. Joseph Andorfer Ewan (1909-1999). Archives of Natural History 27(3):286-288.

Beidleman, R.G. 2000. Joseph Ewan (1909-1999) a retrospective. Archives of Natural History 27(3): 289-3000

Kleinman, Kim. 2000. Lunch at the Museum Building: continuing legacy of the Ewans. Archives of Natural History 27(3):301-306.

Dorr, L.J. and D. Holland. 2000. Bibliography of Joseph Andorfer Ewan (1909-1999). Archives of Natural History 27(3):307-334.

Appendix 1
Article by Joseph Ewan on a bird that was published in 1928 in Condor:
“California Black Rail in Los Angeles County. -- On a field trip to the Playa del Rey marsh, February 25 of this year, an adult California Black Rail (Creciscus jamaicensis coturniculus) was found impaled on a barb wire fence that crosses the salicornia from the Pacific Electric tracks. The fact that the body was impaled, points to the work of a California Shrike. Due to the mutilated condition of the body, only the feet and a wing were preserved. The measurements of the wing and tarsus correspond perfectly with those given in Bailey’s “Handbook,” while the speckled coloration and size of the wing proved convincing. The record has been verified by Dr. Loye Miller of the University of California at Los Angeles. There appear to be no recent records of the occurrence of this rail in this locality. -- Joseph Ewan, Los Angeles, california, March 13, 1928.”

Appendix 2
The Missouri Botanic Garden web site states the following about Joseph Ewan:
“Ewan Collection, The Ewan Collection, purchased by the Garden in 1986, includes the research materials, personal papers, and 11,000 volumes assembled by Joseph Ewan eminent historian of natural history. The collection is especially strong in the history of natural history, biography, and exploration, and it includes many rare or unique items.”

The Tulane University Herbarium website states the following about Joseph Ewan:
“When Joseph Ewan, A.B. (1909-) came to Tulane in 1947, he brought with him a personal herbarium of some 32,000 specimens, probably three or four times as many specimens as were already present in the University's collection. The Ewan herbarium is largely responsible for the wide geographical coverage of the University's present collection, as well as many of its type specimens. In addition to his own collections, mostly from southern California, the Rocky Mountain region, and South America, Ewan's herbarium also included specimens gathered by L.M. Booth (southern California), I. Clokey (Nevada), D. Keck (Penstemon), J.G. Lemmon (California and Arizona ferns), F.W. Pierson (California), Y. Mexia (Latin America), and the Gray Herbarium exsiccatae of the Fernald period. Specimens of Delphinium and Vismia, Ewan's own taxonomic specialties, are also well represented. The Tulane herbarium benefitted from Ewan's interest in botanical history and bibliography; a number of specimens were acquired that had been collected by well-known exploring expeditions of the nineteenth century, these mostly duplicates from European herbaria, particularly the British Museum (Natural History) and the Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques, Geneva. A nearly complete set of Asa Gray's North American Gramineae and Cyperaceae was also added. All collections were accommodated in modern steel cases, and curated by Nesta Dunn Ewan, who worked as a volunteer for thirty years.”

Since 1977, the present curators have attempted to enlarge the holdings of Louisiana plants, and acquire material from Mexico, particularly the Yucatan Peninsula, where studies are being carried out by Tulane faculty and students. To that end, a number of new exchange agreements were established with Latin American botanical institutions. Increased emphasis has also been placed upon cultivated plants in New Orleans. Present staff includes Steven P. Darwin, Ph.D., Curator and Director (taxonomy and phylogeny of angiosperms, tropical Rubiaceae, flora of Louisiana); Anne S. Bradburn, M.S., Assistant Curator (barrier island vegetation of the Gulf Coast, flora of Yucatan, ethnobotany); Arthur L. Welden, Ph.D., Curator of Fungi (neotropical fungi, especially Thelephoraceae); and Joseph A. Ewan, A.B., Sc.D., Curator Emeritus (bibliography of American natural history.”