Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
In 1932, Ralph Hoffmann died of injuries from a fall on a cliff on San Miguel Island in southern California. His tragic death brought to an end his collecting plants on the dune and marsh at Carpinteria. Hoffmann's goal appeared to be that of completing a floristic monograph of Santa Barbara County, not unlike the monograph that he completed in 1922 for Berkshire County, Massachusetts. His untimely death, unfortunately, brought an end to that goal. However, Clifton Smith emerged on the landscape scene only a few decades later and he did complete a floristic work of Santa Barbara County. His first attempt at the Flora was in 1952, followed by a more complete Flora in 1978, and then culminated with his second edition of a county and regional flora in 1998 (Smith, 1998). His floristic forays and book took him over the county boundary into adjacent regions such as Point Mugu, Ventura, Carrizo Plain, and Caliente Mountain.
Apparently, Ralph Hoffmann also ventured past the county boundary, sometimes visitng the Mohave Desert. It appears that Hoffmann had also developed an interest in desert cacti and succulents. Fortunately, Clif Smith (1978 and 1998) wrote a very nice narrative to honor Ralph Hoffmann, which is very important reading, and supplements very nicely, the narrative by Wayne Ferren regarding Ralph Hoffmann.
A careful reading of a biography essay on Ralph Hoffmann, written by Harold Swanton (1981), which appeared, coincidentally, in Natural History, is also important to understanding the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. He was, afterall, a superb naturalist and excellent director of the Natural History Museum in Santa Barbara, while residing, all the while, in Carpinteria. He truly is, to this day, an "unsung guide" to native plants, as well as birds. This research hopes to change a little of that biased nature of Ralph Hoffmann as being unsung.
This brief article will contribute to showing how Ralph Hoffmann has influenced scientists and naturalists for more than 50 years after his death, simply through his good writing, field collecting, knowledge, and inspiration that he put into his work. My efforts in writing this brief article is part of a larger project for a comparative biography and history of natural history and Ralph Hoffmann, in both Los Angeles County and Santa Barbara County. The project will also compare California to the state of Massachusetts, from the perspective of Ralph Hoffmann and his studies of native birds and native plants.
Wayne Ferren quotes Hoffmann many times throughout his book because of the significant baseline information it provided to his study of Carpinteria Salt Marsh. He could draw upon Hoffmann's many observations on distribution of selected native plants from that earlier era, both for analysis and understanding the changes and 'evolution' of the flora of Carpinteria salt marsh. Presented here is an excerpt from Wayne Ferren's monographic book that refers directly to Ralph Hoffmann in a very nicely written historical narrative:
"The second quarter of the 20th Century included visits to Carpinteria Salt Marsh by many notable collectors. Ralph Hoffmann, Director of SBM (1925-1932), collected numerous specimens from the estuary and dunes between 1925-1932. These specimens are housed at SBM, CAS, and POM."
These "numerous specimens" as stated above by Ferren, come to a tabulated total of 18 species collected by Hoffmann at Carpinteria. Of course, there could be a few more species that were missed in a careful perusal of Ferren's annotated catalogue. Perhaps it is possible that Ferren did not cite all of the Hoffmann collections from Carpinteria in his catalogue? It is also possible that Hoffmann made vouchers of plants at Carpinteria that were upslope in the coastal sage scrub and riparian areas of the streams, which were beyond the scope of Ferren's Carpinteria project, and beyond the scope of this project as well, at least for the time being.
For the 18 species that I did find in Ferren's annotated catalogue of plants, I arranged them chronologically by date, rather than alphabetically by plant family. I felt that a unique perspective might be gained in this way. It could provide a view, or window, into the history and biography of Ralph Hoffmann, which might be understood in a new "light". I discovered that this perspective may even be helpful for an ecological-phenological understanding of the plant geography at Carpinteria salt marsh. For example, 9 of the 18 species of plants collected by Hoffmann and listed by Ferren, were found on a single day, May 30, 1925. They appear primarily to be coastal strand and dune species. Of course, all of these plants of this date would have undergone the same rainfall patterns of that past winter, similar ocean influences of salt spray (but perhaps not), and the similar wind and sun exposure. The vouchers might show growth patterns on the leaves (small or robust), which would be an indication of rainfall abundance. The number of fruits and flowers and the size, or elongation of the inflorescence stems and stalks, may be an indication of drought or abundant rainfall, especially when compared to other vouchers by other collectors. A researcher could also look up in an almanac, what the rainfall was for that winter of 1924-1925, as well as the overall climate of that decade, and then perhaps grasp more deeply what the ecology of Carpinteria salt marsh was in 1925, or perhaps for all of the 1920s? It could explain why Ralph Hoffmann made a particular voucher, as it had abundant flowers, fruits, or had a an exceptionally robust nature, from an abundance of rainfall?
In compiling Ferren's list of Hoffmann vouchers, I gave the entire date of collection and the entire species name, which I hope can lead to understanding the precious nature of the wetland at Carpinteria salt marsh, at least from a historical, recreational, and interpretive perspective for the public. In compiling this list, I have also discovered that Wayne Ferren made a reference to 18 plants which were collected by Ralph Hoffmann. Those 18 species, one of which, Heliotropium curassavicum, is a species I have been researching the biogeography for some time now. These species are listed as follows by year:
1. March 15 ... Salix laevigata
2. May 2 ... Heliotropium curassivicum oculatum
3. May 30 ... Lasthenia glabrata coulteri ... (Hoffman, only one "n" used)
4. May 30 ... Malacothrix incana succulenta
5. May 30 ...Spergularia macrotheca macrotheca ... (Hoffman-Hoffman)
6. May 30 ... Atriplex leucophylla ... (Hoffman-Hoffman)
7. May 30 ... Chenopodium murale
8. May 30 ... Bromus carinatus
9. May 30 ... Hordeum geniculatum
10. May 30 ... Lolium multiflorum
11. June 16 ... Ambrosia chamissonis
12. August 13 ... Cordylanthus maritmus maritimus
13. August 13 ... Juncus textilis
14. August 13 ... Triglochin concinna
15. March 15 ... Malacothrix incana succulenta
16. September 4 ... Scirpus pungens [S. americanus]
17. November 2 ... Atriplex watsoni
18. April 20 ... Carex praegracilis
A careful perusal of the Ferren's catalogue and the entire report, including my own lifetime of field observations, indicates that these plants found by Hoffmann are coastal dune, coastal strand, and coastal marsh species.
In regard to the S. macrotheca (#5), and the A. leucophylla in the above list, both species are listed by Ferren as follows: "Hoffman-Hoffman." One "n" is used, but more signficant is that Hoffmann's surname is listed twice with a hyphen between them. Does this indicate that a family member collected this species with him, i.e., his wife, child, or relative. Or is it a simple typographical error of listing the name twice with an incorrect spelling of the surname.
I discovered that Ferren listed G.Ledyard Stebbins for a collection of Malacothrix incana in his cataglogue. And Ralph Hoffmann collected it too. Could this have been a joint field trip, where both botanists collected the same species. Or did Stebbins follow in Hoffmann's footsteps and collect this species. Was Stebbins making a pilgrimage to Carpinteria, in honor of Ralph Hoffmann, his former botany teacher in about 1920. The famous botanical scholar, Peter Raven (Missouri Botanic Garden) has discovered that Stebbins was a former student of Hoffmann, while a teenager. Hoffmann may have influenced Stebbins to pursue a career in botany at Harvard. By the way, Harvard is the university that Ralph Hoffmann attended for his degree. The plant voucher by Stebbins may need to be inspected for its date becaue it is a low voucher number, and it seems to indicate that he could have collected during the 1920s on a visit to see Ralph Hoffmann. Or it could have been a visit by Stebbins, sometime after Hoffmann's death in 1932, in which case it could be a kind of pilgrimage to honor Hoffmann, which brought Stebbins to Carpinteria. Perhaps Stebbins returned from Harvard and the east coast to attend the funeral of Hoffmann? And then made a brief pilgrimage to collect a plant at the Carpinteria salt marsh, where he may have been taken as a student under Ralph Hoffmann? Listed below is the species collected by Stebbins and the voucher number as it occurs at the University of California in Berkeley.
G.Stebbins ... Malacothrix incana incana 2654 (UC)
Wouldn't it be nice to bring Hoffmann's classic 1922 monograph on the flora of Berkshire County back into print? And then, using that flora of Berkshire as a template, construct a 1932 Flora of Santa Barbara County, as Ralph Hoffmann would have known it, using his notes, vouchers, and writings to make an interesting historical document. It would be of interest if only for the reason of a more complete history and in doing deep ecology and biographical history of Ralph Hoffmann.
This brief biography and history article forms part of a larger study as a biography and history project into the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. And it is also a greater project that is being completed in conjunction with a comparative history of birding and floristic field work by Ralph Hoffmann in Berkshire County and Santa Barbara County. Of course, there are overtones for understanding environmental history and the history of natural history in Massachusetts and California that will also be considered. In a very real sense, it is an ambitious project of historical geography, the history of ecology, and biogeography of two microcosms in the United States. It would peer into a part of California, that being Santa Barbara County, as it existed between 1920 and 1932