My love for nature started at a young age, with hikes around San Diego and Anza Borrego Desert State Park, but my real passion for learning about plants grew from the devastation of the 2003 Cedar Fire. I was horrified at the scope of the destruction and worried for my friends and neighbors, but after the initial shock, I was also amazed at the resilience of the chaparral plants on the hillsides around my house. The plants began to resprout mere days after the fire, and I was inspired by the plants’ ability to recover.
I went on to earn my M.A. and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in Dr. Jarmila Pittermann’s lab. For my dissertation, I studied another community of resilient plants: the pygmy forest in Mendocino County, California. These plants survive on soils that are rich in aluminum, which is toxic to plant roots, but poor in most nutrients that plants need to grow. As a result, these hardy plants are adorably tiny, remaining only head-height in some locations despite being several decades old. I examined their leaves, xylem (water-transporting cells), and community structure to discover how these plants grow on these challenging soils.
During my graduate training, I was privileged to have the opportunity to teach a course on plant physiology and share the joy of studying plant biology with my students. Following that experience, I have aspired to spend my career teaching students the wonder of biology and of plants. Understanding the natural world around us enriches our lives and lets us appreciate aspects of our world that we may otherwise drive by without a second thought. Plus, I think all of us can find inspiration in plants’ amazing ability to adjust to their environment and thrive where they grow.