Robert Ornduff


Robert Ornduff Botanist Robert Ornduff, an expert on California plants and former director of the Botanical Garden, died Sept. 22, at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, from complications of metastatic melanoma.

A professor emeritus of integrative biology, he was 68.

Ornduff was a field biologist who concentrated on native plants of California and of similar Mediterranean climates, such as South Africa and Western Australia. His book, "Introduction to California Plant Life," remains a popular layman's field guide to one of the most varied floras in the world. He was also a longtime member of the California Native Plant Society and an editorial adviser for its publication, Fremontia, for 27 years.

"Bob was a very, very caring person and a great teacher who deeply loved and appreciated plants," said Peter Raven, a longtime friend and director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, which studies and conserves plants of the New World. "This came through in one of his biggest contributions, which was turning the UC Botanical Garden into a world-class garden and a leading place for studying and displaying the unique variety of California plants."

Ornduff directed the garden from 1973 to 1991, expanding its plant collection to include specimens from South Africa and Chile. He was particularly proud of the docent program he instituted, said Phyllis Faber, co-editor with Ornduff of the Natural History Series at University of California Press.

During his 48-year career, Ornduff's interests ranged from the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada to the small but showy yellow flower called goldfields that carpet the Central Valley each spring.

"Bob was one of the treasures of the botanical world," said Arthur Kruckeberg, professor emeritus of botany at the University of Washington, Seattle, and one of Ornduff's mentors. "He was a green-thumb botanist who delighted in growing plants and disseminating his interest to the general public."

Among his abiding interests were the unusual reproductive strategies of plants and how they evolved, and plants that inhabit small islands - essentially rocks frequented by birds, which he referred to as "guano islands."

Born in Portland, Ore., in 1932, Ornduff received a Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1961, and joined the campus faculty in 1963. As a botany professor, he instituted a popular course on California flora that he taught for 30 years.

His other positions at Berkeley included curator of seed plants and, eventually, director from 1967 to 1982 of the University Herbarium; director of the Jepson Herbarium from 1968 to 1982; chairman of the Department of Botany from 1986 to 1989, when the department was reorganized into the Department of Integrative Biology; and executive director of the Miller Institute at Berkeley from 1984 to 1987.

Ornduff was a leader in many plant and plant conservation organizations, including the California Native Plant Society, the Save-the-Redwoods League, the Pacific Horticultural Foundation, the Center for Plant Conservation, the California Botanical Society, the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, and the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.

His honors included awards of merit from the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta and the Botanical Society of America, both in 1993, and the F. Owen Pearce Award of Horticulture from Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco in 1994.

A resident of Berkeley, Ornduff is survived by a sister, Anne Vial, of Lake Oswego, Oregon.


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