Ernesto Sandoval knows his plants. From the Amorphophallus titanium to the Cucumber Tree, the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory is a plethora of plants for Sandoval to study.
What is your occupation?
I am director of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory. Kind of like the head librarian at a library of living plants.
What do you do at the conservatory?
I supervise and manage a cadre of interns, student employees, volunteers and part-time staff. I make a lot of the decisions of what to transplant, propagate and otherwise manipulate as well as when, how and how many.
What is the purpose of having a conservatory?
The conservatory is a very unique teaching and research resource for the campus and beyond. We directly provide plants and other plant related resources for many campus courses especially BIS 2B and 2C and many upper division plant biology classes.
Are you currently doing any research for UC Davis?
My job is primarily to maintain and improve a diverse collection of plants and in the official sense of the word I don’t do any research.
What do you do if you don’t ‘officially‘ do research?
Although I don’t officially do any research, I am always trying to come up with new and improved methods of growing and propagating the plants in our collection, especially those rare plants for which there is little to no published information.
What is the rarest flower or plant that you have in the conservatory?
Hmmm, rarity is a funny thing because twice now I’ve heard of someone from Central America visiting Davis and thinking that the local scrub jays were the most beautiful bird they had ever seen!
But we have the Cucumber Tree (Dendrosicyos socotrana) and the Socotran “Fig“ (Dorstenia gigas) that are both from the Island of Socotra which has been difficult to visit for most of human history.
Probably the rarest “flower” in the conservatory would be the titan arum since it’s actually quite rare in its native habitat of lowland rainforest on the island of Sumatra of Indonesia. Unfortunately lowland areas across the world are continually threatened with unsustainable, ecologically speaking, human activity.
The Amorphophallus titanium, or the titan arum, is a floral giant that takes 15 years to blossom. According to the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory website, there have only been 100 recorded blossoming of the titan arum, and four of them occurred at UCD.
I read that you recently witnessed the blooming of the titan arum, what was that like?
Having witnessed two in two weeks was a lot of fun while at the same time as tiring as having had two babies in two weeks. Well, perhaps a bit less strenuous because this baby takes care of itself most of the time.
What is your favorite plant at the conservatory?
I would have to say the Dorstenia gigas since they are quite beautiful chubby desert adapted plants with beautiful glossy green leaves that turn a nice rusty orange color when they dry down. But you really shouldn’t be asking me to pick the favorite child!
What is the strangest and or longest named plant in your conservatory?
Welwitschia mirabilis. Google the name and you‘ll know what I’m talking about. I drove several hundred miles from Cape Town, South Africa just to see plants in habitat in Central and Northern Namibia!
Side note to reader: Having Googled the Welwitschia, the plant consists of two permanent leaves which never fall off the plant, a stem base, and roots. The leaves that continue to grow off of the Welwitschia become leathery and broad and curl around the plant, making each Welwitschia plant unique.
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at email@example.com.