Ada Nesta Dunn Ewan
During the Great Depression:
Woman Scientist in Los Angeles
Explores for Wild Native Plants

Researching the Young Adult Life of Nesta Dunn, A Nearly Forgotton
Scientific Explorer of Two Future National Parks
(Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains)

Robert "Roy" Jan van de Hoek
Vertebrate Field Biologist, Botanist, Ecologist, Archaeologist, & Geographer
Director of Research and Restoration for Wetlands Action Network

A young 22 year-old woman in the midst of the Great Depression of 1931, who was only about 5 feet tall boarded a boat at a harbor which took her to an island off the coast of California. The boat took her to Santa Rosa Island, located southwest of Santa Barbara, California. The next year, she traveled again to Santa Rosa Island, but this time the boat stopped at Anacapa Island along the way. Her name was Nesta Dunn and she was an undergraduate senior student at UCLA with a major in Botany. She would graduate one year after her second voyage in 1933 with a degree in Botany from UCLA. After graduation, she moved to Berkeley, where she would marry another botanist named Joseph Ewan, who would later become a noted natural historian and scientist. They first met in 1928, when both were 20 years old, as Joseph Ewan was also an undergraduate student in botanical science at UCLA. During their lives together for over 50 years, which included raising several children, she also pursued a long career doing botany research, natural history research, herbarium research, and managing the herbarium at Tulane University for 30 years.

During these same two years of 1931 and 1932, Nesta Dunna also explored in the Santa Monica Mountains and inland near Riverside. It is interesting to note that the two areas where she focused her scientific collecting, namely the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains, are now both being preserved as National Parks, in part due to the wild native plants and native wildlife found there. Five of the eight islands are included in the National Park. However, roughly 50% of the eight island's acreage is fully protected in National Parks. Nearly 50%, or three islands have only limited protection because two are managed the US Navy that uses bombs on one of them. The other island is largely controlled and owned by a private company. Similarly, only about 50% of the Santa Monica Mountains is protected in parks and preserves, the balance is in private ownership, with much of it already developed into homes and businesses. Nesta Dunn knew the Santa Monica Mountains when they were much more wild. She visited the Channel Islands, when there was a lighthouse keeper family on Anacapa and Santa Rosa Island was a private ranch. Today, those two islands are much better protected for wild native plants under the National Park Service, than when she visited the islands.

My own ongoing research focuses on California natural history, particularly the biogeography of southern California, from wetlands, mountains, deserts, prairies, seashores, to the history of natural history of California. The information and knowledge gleaned is used toward the application of restoration and recovery of natural areas and wild open spaces not just in California, but also Hawaii, Mexico, Nevada, and a few other areas in the western United States.

Investigation into the life history of Nesta Dunn as a botanist has come via an interest, not only in Joseph Ewan as her husband and colleague, but also because Nesta Dunn explored the California Channel Islands and the Santa Monica Mountains near UCLA. Interestingly, both of these places are now managed and owned by the National Park Service. Both areas are undergoing every effort possible to restore and recover native plant wildflowers and native wildlife. UCLA has been at the forefront of interest in the ecology of both the Santa Monica Mountains and the Channel Islands.

There is a fair amount of knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains at UCLA in both the biology and geography departments. My alma mater, California State University Northridge, also has some important collections, contributed to the university herbarium and the zoology collections, while I was student. Thus far, a small nugget of information regarding Nesta Dunn and her collecting on the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Mountains has been located at the UCLA Herbarium. Future research will discern addition information and knowledge.

Additional research into Nesta Dunn as a scientific botanist has included a visit to the Tulane University Herbarium in New Orleans, Louisiana in February, 2003. In the future, a visit is to be hoped for to the Missouri Botanic Garden in St. Louis, Missouri, as time and finances permit it.

My research at UCLA in the Herbarium and Library is preliminary but ongoing and will continue as funding and time allow. Miss Dunn's botany professor at UCLA was Doctor Carl Epling. In 1931-1932, UCLA was only three years old, and Nesta Dunn would have been one of his first students, and certainly one of the first of his woman students. In fact, she watched over and baby-sat for the children of Carl Epling. Some of her botanical exploration in the Santa Monica Mountains was done togehter with Carl Epling, perhaps on a class fieldtrip. Listed below is a preliminary table of her collecting trips around southern California in 1931-1932.

Nesta Dunn Plant Collections of Southern California

Channel Islands
24 May 1931 ..... Silene anthirrhina (Indian Pink) ..... Santa Rosa Island
14 May 1932 ..... Frankenia salina (Alkali Heath) ..... Anacapa Island
14 May 1932 ..... Spergularia macrotheca (Sand Spurry) ..... Anacapa Island
15 May 1932 ..... Coreopsis gigantea(Giant Coreopsis) ..... Santa Rosa Island
15 May 1932 ..... Calochortus albus (Mariposa Lily) ..... Santa Rosa Island

Santa Monica Mountains
30 May 1931 ..... Stachys albens (Wild Mint) ..... Alisos Canyon
30 May 1931 ..... [to be completed by Robert Roy van de Hoek as time and finances allow]

Bradburn, Anne S. 2000. Joseph Andorfer Ewan: October 24, 1909 - December 5, 1999, A Memoir. Sida19(1):219-222.

Bradburn, Anne S. 2000. Nesta Dunn Ewan: November 8, 1908 - September 13, 2000, A Memoir. Sida19(2):421-423.

Desmond, R. G. C. 2001. Obituary: Nesta Dunn Ewan (19082000). Archives of Natural History 28:267269.

Dorr, L. J. & Whittemore, A. T. 2000. Ada Nesta Dunn Ewan (19082000). Taxon 49: 817.

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

Jepson, Willis. 1943. Flora of California, Volume 3.