August 20, 2019

Award Honors Botanist Who Has Cultivated Relationships As Well As Plants

Lucinda McDade of CGU
2019 Asa Gray Award winner: CGU's Lucinda McDade.

For her lifetime professional focus on and scholarly contributions to the field of botany, Lucinda McDade has been honored by the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) with its 2019 Asa Gray Award.

Named after an American botanist regarded as one of the field’s most significant 19th century figures, the award honors someone who has “cultivated a career that has contributed significant research to systematic botany while making lasting contributions to the systematic community, profession, and students,” said an ASPT announcement about McDade’s selection.

McDade, who is the chair of CGU’s Botany Department and executive director of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, received the award in July during ASPT’s 2019 meeting held in Tucson, Arizona.

“Lucinda’s amazing career,” said ASPT member and UC Berkeley Professor Bruce Baldwin, “has been distinguished by bold and effective leadership in systematic botany in each of the arenas that matter most to make a significantly positive impact on our field.”

Those arenas, according to the award announcement, include McDade’s research on the plant family Acanthaceae—a group of some 4,000 species including wild petunias, thunbergias, shrimp plants (pictured here), and bear’s breeches—as well as her phylogenetic studies and advocacy of herbaria, which are collections of pressed plants that provide scientists with a direct understanding of plant diversity.

The shrimp plant
One member of a 4,000-species family: the shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana). Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

McDade holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tulane University and completed her doctoral work at Duke University, where her dissertation looked at four aspects of research that have marked her professional career: tropical biology of the Americas, systematics, reproductive biology, and Acanthaceae.

Prior to arriving in Claremont in 2006, McDade served as the curator of the herbarium at the University of Arizona (where she advocated for digitizing and freely disseminating herbarium data), among other institutions.

McDade’s advocacy work continues today, the announcement noted, with her involvement in “conservation projects and general considerations for California and Baja California, areas that are of special interest in this era of rapid global climate change.”

“I had been enchanted by [Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden] since I first visited it in the late 1980s,” said McDade, RSABG’s executive director.

Letters written in support of McDade’s nomination praised her for being a role model and mentor for her students. “Lucinda has this rare ability to see unlimited potential in people and she encourages them to venture beyond their comfort levels,” one nomination letter said. “When it comes to learning a new analytical method, the word ‘impossible’ is not in her vocabulary.”

Serving as executive director of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is a dream fulfilled for McDade, who is proud of the garden’s many aspects, from its Seed Bank (the largest repository of seeds of California native plants anywhere) to its conservation groves and nursery.

“I had been enchanted by this garden since I first visited it in the late 1980s, owing to its dedication to native plants,” she told a Center for Plant Conservation interviewer last year, “and so was thrilled to have the chance to work here.”