Ed Peterson, who collected wildflower seeds across the deserts, mountains, and meadows of Southern California, died on November 14, 2005, at a nursing home in Los Angeles.1 He was 100 and the oldest surviving member of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club.2
After helping launch the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants with a mission to preserve the area's native flora, he began the seed collecting program in 1962.3 In addition to collecting seeds, he sorted, cleaned, packaged, and sold them. According to the Foundation, he served "with exceptional distinction for 45 years" and "amassed a knowledge of native plant seeds that is unsurpassed."2
Despite vicious thorns and occasional rattlesnakes, Mr. Peterson persisted, often on his hands and knees, in floral expeditions that annually yielded no more than 20 pounds of mostly minuscule seeds. He knew the backcountry so well that he could predict at what bend or mile marker a particular flower would appear. His "search and re-search" technique was to find a plant in bloom and then come back when it had turned brown and gone to seed. He called it "re-search" because it was often as difficult to find the plant the second time as it was the first.1 Seed hunting, Peterson happily pointed out, was better than fishing, because "we always come back with something."4
In recent years, he continued his hikes despite becoming legally blind 5 years ago. He knew hundreds of flowers and identified them by others' descriptions, giving both common and Latin names. He regarded tents as a "nuisance" and slept on the ground, including on his last outing to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on his 100th birthday in the spring of 2005.1
Edward Leslie Peterson was born in Los Angeles on April 8, 1905, and grew up in Hollywood, where he watered his family's Shasta daisies and tended the vegetable garden. After high school, he worked at a local nursery for 3 years before attending the University of California, Los Angeles to earn a degree in botany in 1930.4 He spent the next 25 years as landscape supervisor at Los Angeles City College.
"He was a superb amateur botanist and an expert on the propagation of native plants from seeds," said Bob Cates, historian of the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club, which Mr. Peterson joined in 1938.4 In the late 1940s, Peterson won a contest to name the newly launched newsletter of the Club, earning a lifetime subscription.
The microscopic seeds Mr. Peterson found were sold by the apothecary spoonful, not by the pound, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1988. "You could start as an infant and die a centenarian, and you couldn't gather 20 pounds of California fuchsia seed in your lifetime," he said wistfully.1
Collecting seeds, nature's most basic creation, helped "give purpose to my life," he said in a 1998 interview. "It has kept me going through these years."4
Rather than having a traditional service, his family elected to spread his ashes on Mt. San Jacinto the following spring at a spot where he and his brothers camped as children and first learned to appreciate the wilderness.2
1. Martin D. Ed Peterson, 100, Seedsman Who Collected California Wildflowers. The New York Times. November 27, 2005;Obituaries:33.
2. Theodore Payne Foundation Web site. Press Releases. Available at: http://www.theodorepayne.org/newsroom/press_releases.htm. Accessed March 23, 2006.
3. Theodore Payne Foundation Web site. Winter 2005 Newsletter. Available at: http://www.theodorepayne.org/poppyprint/05-4.pdf. Accessed March 23, 2006.
4. Arroyo Seco Foundation Web site. News of the Arroyo 2005, LA Times Obituary. Available at: http://www.arroyoseco.org/news2005.php?artic=506. Accessed March 23, 2006.