CNPS SCV Blazing Star Logo
California Native Plant Society

Santa Clara Valley Chapter

CNPS SCV History



1972 - 1992  (with current officer updates)


by Jean Sorenson

The Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society was founded in 1972. The first officers were Grace Mason - President, Sally Casey - Vice President, and Virginia Bothwell – Secretary. Our first Chapter field trip was a visit to Yerba Buena Nursery, led by nursery owner Gerda Isenberg and botanist Roxana Ferris. Our Chapter newsletter, The Blazing Star, first appeared on June 1, 1972. This issue contained a' ''Code of Conduct" for visiting natural areas, including official legal language regarding unauthorized plant collecting. Also of concern was a report of vehicle damage on San Benito Mountain. The November issue alerted members to the importance of conserving Bay Area Wetlands. In December of that year, a telephone tree for legislative issues was formed. Our first wildflower show was held at the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation on April 24, 1973; the following year it was moved to the Saratoga High School.


In 1973, botanist Natalie Hopkins became Chapter President, and remained in office for two years. In 1974 the Chapter hosted a very successful statewide CNPS field trip weekend organized by Stu and Diane Olsen. The weekend included visits to the Abrams Cypress at Bonny Doon, the nature area at De Anza College, a bayland salt marsh, and a tour of the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation. Roxana Ferris and Carl Sharsmith became our Chapter's first two CNPS Fellows during this year.

During the early to mid 70s, relationships were established with other organizations, such as the Youth Science Institute, the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation, the Midpeninsula Regional Park District; De Anza College and the Biological Science Department of San Jose State University. Faculty members of San Jose State became some of our most popular field trip leaders. Field trips with Dr. Carl Sharsmith remain popular to this day.

Suzanne Schettler became Chapter President in 1975. Meanwhile, our members continued to learn about our native flora through field trips and lectures at general meetings. One of these early field trips could be seen as the beginning of our Chapter's greatest conservation issue. In April 1975, Mabel Crittenden led a plant walk in what is now Edgewood Park. Mabel introduced our Chapter members to the exceptional flora on those Serpentine grasslands. At the time, the site was intended to become a state college campus.

Our newsletter urged participation in Environmental Impact Report processes, warned about dangers to rare bulbs, and reported on the need to preserve the Abrams Cypresses in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At this time, we also became concerned with saving Tulare Hill, a Serpentine landmark south of San Jose. It is one site for the rare Streptanthus albidus var. albidus. In 1976, Natalie Hopkins and Richard Hildreth were involved in a statewide effort to establish a formal plant collecting policy. Other issues during that year were a proposed plant inventory at Wunderlich County Park in San Mateo County, a joint effort between CNPS and the California Conservation Corps to eradicate weeds, and a warning about possible, renewed gravel quarry activity in Santa Clara County's Uvas Canyon. The end of the year brought a timely reminder from Chapter President Doug Erskine that the purpose of CNPS is the preservation and conservation of the native plants and vegetation of California," and a call for increased political action.

Our Education Committee was formed in 1977, and began by providing advice to parks and others on natives for landscape use, and working with schools on teacher/student natural history trips. Another issue that year was the protection of the Farm Hill site in Redwood City. Conservation Chair, June Bilisoly led that effort, which resulted in a compromise solution to save an eight-acre Fritillaria liliacea site. Both the Smithsonian Institution and the US Department of Fish and Game were involved in attempting to add this Fritillaria to the Federal List. There was no State List of rare and endangered plants at that time, though plans were underway.

The Escaped Exotics Committee was formed early in 1978, as part of a statewide effort to document and control offending species. Chapter President Anita Jesse wrote a notice condemning the uncontrolled planting of alien tree species, in Santa Clara County's natural area parks. She also alerted people to a potential onslaught of Gorse and Broom in the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, specified in a hydroseeding plan! That landscape plan was revised several months later, at the urging of CNPS. Our concern about invasive exotics prompted the creation of a formal list of Escaped Exotics in the South Bay Area. This work was continued during Patrick McCue's term of office (1978 to 1979). 1978 also saw the beginning of a joint effort between CNPS and the Nature Conservancy to preserve Santa Cruz Island. Photographer and field trip leader, Herman Baum became the third Fellow of CNPS from our Chapter in the summer of 1978.

During Skipper Tripp's presidency, in 1979, our Chapter worked on several conservation issues. We joined forces with the Santa Cruz Chapter in lending financial support to a lawsuit aimed at stopping the development of the Cupressus abramsiana site in Santa Cruz County. In October of that year, the Edgewood site was acquired by San Mateo County and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and designated as a County Park. Suzanne Sommers, a CNPS member and nearby resident of Edgewood began a plant survey which revealed the presence of four rare and endangered plants and later compiled a partial flora list of Edgewood County Park, listing nearly 400 species for the site.


In 1980, while Stevie Ferguson was President, the Tulare Hill issue was back in the spotlight. There was concern that all or most of the site would be zoned for development. It turned out that only a small portion of it was in danger. Also, our Conservation Committee was invited to give input on the Kaiser Quarry Revegetation Project in the Cupertino Hills. The Committee's conclusion, however, was that the site was probably beyond restoration. Later that year, Chapter members were urged to contribute ideas, for the Santa Clara County General Plan. In San Mateo County, more activity on the Edgewood front occurred, too. Even though the site was secured as a park, Off-Road Vehicle damage wiped out one population of Fritillaria liliacea and caused the destruction of a large oak tree. The County, under pressure, banned ORVs from the park.

Our most important fund raiser, the Annual Wildflower Show became a two-day event in 1980, and has grown along with our Chapter. From the start, Gerda Isenberg was a major contributor, donating time, space and plant material. For her pioneering work in introducing the public to native plants through her nursery, Gerda was named a CNPS Fellow in the fall of 1980. Barbara Coe got involved with the wildflower show when she worked at Yerba Buna. Now with the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation, she has gradually assumed the large responsibilities of overseeing plant propagation and coordinating the sale.

Robert Will, a horticulture instructor at Foothill College, became President the fall of 1981 and opened many doors for our Chapter. In addition to securing ·the Foothill Campus Center for our wildflower show, he held propagation workshops in the greenhouse facilities at Foothill and made arrangements. for use of classrooms for a popular plant keying short course taught by botany instructors Lee Main and Sally Casey. Sally, one of our founding members, has held many positions with our Chapter, and her classes and field trips featuring the grasses continue to be very popular. In 1981, our slide library group began cataloging the 1,200 slides of native plants bequeathed by Herman Baum. These slides have become the core of our Chapter slide library. Others have since added to the collection, giving our volunteers plenty of work identifying, labeling, and storing these slides, which are used for various educational programs.

Meanwhile, San Mateo County began a Conceptual Master Plan for Edgewood Park. Suzanne Sommers led a wildflower walk there in spring of 1981. The Rare and Endangered Plant Committee began plant surveys at Edgewood. Suzanne's contributions to the Edgewood effort cannot be overstated. Another Chapter member, Natalie Hopkins, compiled an annotated list of Rare and Endangered Vascular Plants in the Vicinity of Santa Clara Valley. Sally Casey extended her list of plants from Tulare Hill.

In 1982, our Chapter was proud to reissue Dr. Helen K. Sharsmith's FLORA OF THE MT. HAMILTON RANGE OF CALIFORNIA. Its author, retired and in ill health, was very pleased to see her work so attractively printed and well received. This book continues to be an invaluable reference to botanists and amateurs alike. Fortunately, large tracts of private land in the botanically rich Mt. Hamilton area have been allowed to thrive on benign neglect, though developments have crept up the lower slopes. Edgewood, being much smaller and more accessible, was still vulnerable, prompting more plant research and political vigilance.

In December 1982, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved a Conceptual Master Plan and Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Edgewood that included an eighteen-hole golf course. Our state organization and two individuals challenged the adequacy of the EIR in a lawsuit. During spring and summer of 1983, several environmental organizations (including CNPS) conducted a survey of a 390-acre site in the southern watershed across from Highway 280 to the south and west of Edgewood Park. Their report, published in August, 1983, found the "alternative site" to be superior to Edgewood for the accommodation of a golf course. The Board of Supervisors continued to consider Edgewood as the prime site of the golf course in spite of this report.

In 1983, Bob Berka became our Chapter's Legislative Liaison, and began attending hearings concerning a wilderness proposal for Henry Coe Park, which would add 63,000 acres to the State Wilderness System. A Task Force was formed to contribute ideas to the general plan for Coe Park. Eventually, a significant portion of the land was declared wilderness. Edgewood, though, was our major focus at that time. Late in 1984, The San Mateo Thornmint (Acanthomintha obovata ssp. duttonii) was proposed for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This was discussed in a public hearing in San Mateo County. The Thornmint was listed as endangered in 1985. Meanwhile, an Edgewood Park Docent Program was started to train people to guide walks for the-general public at Edgewood. This program and the walks continue to this day and have proved to be as successful as they are popular. Many Chapter members are recognized for effort, but Toni Corelli (President 1984) should be singled out for her outstanding efforts on this project. There were years when she would lead the majority of these walks.

Under the leadership of Bart O'Brien, (1985 -to 1986) we began our participation in the Santa Clara County Fair -- our first major effort to become more visible in the South Bay. The Fair exhibit, the Edgewood walks and the Wildflower show have brought many new members into our Chapter. At Bart's suggestion, we also began holding a Fall potluck, which was wildly successful and has been a Chapter institution ever since. Bob Berka was appointed to serve on the State CNPS Board as Chair for Legislation. One item that came up at that time was the Escaped Exotics Bill. This would have allowed the State's Director of Food and Agriculture to prohibit the sale or import of seven very invasive exotic plants. The bill was defeated, but the issue will come up again. Bob continues to keep us up to date on legislative issues.

Our Chapter President in 1987 and 1988 was Ken Himes, who has been active for a long time as a field trip leader and organizer of Chapter activities. During his term, the Bay Checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha ssp. bayensis), which occurs at Edgewood, was Federally listed as threatened in September of 1987. The Chapter hosted the CNPS state board meeting in March 1987 at Foothill College, participated in the San Francisco Wildlife Refuge Native Plant Symposium and Plant Sale, the Coyote Point Wildflower Show, and the San Mateo County Fair with a booth and display about Edgewood County Park. Around the time of the Fair, there was renewed pressure by the golfing community to commence construction of a public golf course on Edgewood Park. The Fair provided us the opportunity to present an alternative point of view to the general public. During the following spring, we renewed our efforts to expand our docent walks at Edgewood. Several Chapter publications were produced to become available at the County Fair -- these being "Serpentine Bibiliography, by Toni Corelli; "Trees and Shrubs of San Mateo County," by Jeff Caldwell; a new edition of the "Partial Flora of Edgewood County Park,” by Suzanne Sommers; and a new edition of the “Edgewood Park Background Information." The Federal listing of the Bay Checkerspot butterfly presented the County a major roadblock to the golf course plans. By law, the butterfly's habitat (serpentine grasslands) would have to be protected, something that CNPS has always stated would be impossible with a golf course at Edgewood. Members of the Edgewood Park Committee renewed their efforts to get the County to consider the South.Watershed Site as a viable alternative to Edgewood for a golf course. Strong community opposition has developed against development of this site also due to the ongoing drought, and other factors.


Brenda Butner was Chapter President in 1989 and 1990. Early in 1990, several Chapter members took part in a plant monitoring project at the Nature Conservancy's Santa Cruz Island Preserve. This successful effort was the subject of a slide presentation at a general meeting. Our regular field trips included visits to Calero Park (Santa Clara County) and the Snow Mountain area of Colusa and Lake Counties. The Edgewood Docent Program continued to be very active, giving walks and training new people. Chapter member Elly Hess coordinated an ongoing joint effort between our Chapter and the Sierra Club to eradicate, invasive exotic plants at Edgewood Park. Zoe Chandik organized a plant count in the San Francisco Watershed. This was part of an effort to add the Dwarf Flax, Hesperolinon congestum, to the Federal List of Rare, Threatened or Endangered species. In 1990, Legislative Chair Bob Berka wrote an article in the Blazing Star which summarized the various forest initiatives on the election ballot. Our Chapter voted to support the "Forests Forever Initiative." That initiative lost, of course, but we noted that there was strong support for it in the Bay Area counties.

Sara Timby became President in 1991, during a time of ever-expanding Chapter activities. We have held a small but successful autumn plant sale at the Peninsula Conservation Center, and plan to make it a regular event. We are branching out with other small community plant sales, too. The funds we raise are needed for our own conservation efforts, and for donations to other organizations. With the renewed threat to Edgewood Park, a new Edgewood Heroine has emerged. Carolyn Curtis is already known for her hard work on the Santa Clara County Fair display, and for initiating a gardening book to be written by our Chapter. She has now put together the Save Edgewood Park Coalition, consisting of our Chapter and a large number of other organizations. Copies or a public opinion petition supporting the preservation of Edgewood are circulating around the Bay Area. She has worked tirelessly to rally the troops. With the guidance, inspiration and leadership of Carolyn and other dedicated individuals, we have a very good chance of succeeding in this, and any other plant saving efforts we undertake.



President Year
Grace Mason 1972 - 1973
Natalie Hopkins 1973 - 1974
Suzanne Schettler 1975 - 1976
Douglas Erskine 1976 - 1977
Anita Jesse 1977 - 1978
Patrick McCue 1978 - 1979
Skipper Tripp 1979 - 1980
Stevie Ferguson 1980 - 1981
Robert Will 1981- 1982
John Gamon 1983 - 1984
Toni Corelli 1984 - 1985
Bart O'Brien 1985 - 1987
Ken Himes 1987 - 1989
Brenda Butner 1989 - 1991
Sara Timby 1991- 1992
Lori Hubbart 1993 - 1994
Carolyn Curtis 1995 - 1996
Jean Struthers 1997 - 1998
Don Mayall 1999 - 2000
Mary Simpson 2001 - 2002
Georgia Stigall 2003 - 2004
Judy Fenerty 2005 - 2006
Kevin Bryant 2007 - 2010
Arvind Kumar 2011 - 2012
Stephen Rosenthal   2013 - 2016
Madeline Morrow 2017 - 2018
Vivian Neou 2019 - 2021
Radhika Thekkath 2022

In Memorium

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