Planting Knowledge

by Shelly Branco

(reprinted with permission from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Pasadena Star News,
December 6, 2003)

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The end of the dry season is not a good time of year for the native flora crowding the front and back yard of Cliff and Gabi McLean’s Covina home. It is now dry and bloom-free.

The sage, however, still emits a pungent odor when Cliff McLean crushes a leaf between his fingers one warm, sunny morning.

With a yard that defies the neighborhood’s conventional trim green lawns, the McLeans’ home is a testament to their love and knowledge of plants native to the San Gabriel Mountains and canyons.

So is their new field guide on CD-ROM, released two weeks ago at the Eaton Canyon Natural Area and Nature Center in Pasadena.

“Common Plants of Eaton Canyon and the San Gabriel Foothills: Field Guide on CD” features Gabi McLean’s photographs of 124 native plants and taxonomic information for each in a user-friendly format.

Cliff McLean, a retired IBM employee, engineered the software with the layman in mind.

The McLeans have volunteered at the park since 1994. They are board members of the San Gabriel Mountains Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and often lead hikes.

Gabi McLean said they sold 50 copies of the CD its first day of release at a society fund-raiser at the center. The couple would like to expand Nature at Hand, their budding educational publishing business, with software focusing on plant life in other Southern California regions.

The name of their business evokes their mission to encourage residents to explore their surroundings, Cliff McLean added.

“You don’t have to go to the Sequoias or Yosemite to see nature,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t think of the local area.”

The CD-ROM is not their first venture into field guide publishing. The McLeans also created a guide for use by visitors to Eaton Canyon.

Gabi McLean, an amateur photographer, prefers software because of cheaper production costs and the versatility of the medium.

“I think it’s just easier for people to have a CD than a heavy book, it’s very cumbersome.” She said. “You can present a lot more educational, beautiful material and make it accessible to a lot of people.”

Lorrae Fuentes, director of education at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, said there are no guides specific to the San Gabriel Mountains that are user-friendly.

Fuentes viewed the software while it was still in production and added the McLean’s CD-ROM is unique in that it offers photos of each plant from different angles for easier identification.

Although they’ve taken a few plant identification classes at local nature centers and neither has a degree in plant sciences, the McLeans are not amateurs to those who know their work.

“I’ve watched them grow and become botanists,” said Mickey Long, director of Eaton Canyon Natural Area and Nature Center. “They have that extra spark and drive when people really want to do something.”

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