Lester Rowntree

Actually, there are two us.

Les Rowntree---Environmental geographer, naturalist, author

Lester Rowntree (1879-1979) Field botanist, horticulturist, author

Let me first address how and why we have the same name. Lester, the woman, who is also my grandmother, was born Gertrude Ellen Lester. At Westtown School, in the early 20th century, it was convention to call students by their last name and Gertrude came to prefer that to her given name. So much so that even after marrying Bernard Rowntree in 1908, she called herself Gertrude Lester Rowntree. In 1931, when they divorced and Lester began her career as a field botanist, horticulturist, and writer, she dropped “Gertrude” and became Lester Rowntree. That this minor name change masked her gender in a male-dominated world was not unimportant.

I, then, was named after my grandmother, which is just fine with me since I knew her well, received life-long inspiration and knowledge from her, and, like many people still today, greatly respect her contributions to field botany and California native plant conservation, topics that also interest me greatly.

To avoid confusion I will refer to myself on this website as Les Rowntree and to my grandmother as Lester Rowntree. Google and other Internet search engines, however, will probably not respect that difference, consequently web surfers will still be confused by an author who published her first book in 1936 and, remarkably, is still publishing today, 70 years later.

More biographical information about both Lester and myself is found on the “About Us” page of this website and about our writings on the “Our Works” page. A few pictures are found on the“Photos” page. To pique your interest, here are some passages from Lester’s prolific writings.


Selections from Lester Rowntree's Writings


"I inhabit my hillside only from November to February, while the winter storms are blowing and the winter rains pouring. In March and April I have long shining days on the desert, in May happy weeks in the foothills, where a chorus of robins wakes me and my morning bath is in a rushing stream of just-melted snow. In June I am in the northern counties scented with new-mown hay and wild strawberries. In July in the higher mountains, and in August and September up in the alpine zone with mule or burro.

"Early in the spring my travels begin, but first I must load the car. There are no large seats in my car, only my own little leather driver’s seat, which stays with me when one model is turned in for the next. Because on rainy or snowy nights I leave the ground and crawl into the car to sleep, it must have a flat floor; and since it is my home for weeks at a time, it must have room for a great many things—flower presses, books, photographic gadgets, canteens, tools and seed bags. Each year I take a long-handled shovel and a forbidding-looking axe on a 10,000 mile ride. They go along only because the Forest Service requires it—both are far too big and heavy for me to handle." Lone Hunter, The Atlantic Monthly, June 1939

“I am often told, “You have to be nuts to be happy.” If this is true of anyone it is true of the person who pursues plants in their natural homes, for, while he knows himself to be blissfully happy, the few folk who inhabit the isolated regions he penetrates are quite sure he is mad. And no wonder. At the time of meeting, the cruising enthusiast may be surrounded by many square yards of blotters from the press, spread out to dry; he may be seated on the ground with arms hidden deep in a black photographic changing-bag, emptying or filling film holders; or he may be lying incased in a cocoon-like bed roll, making notes. All quite reasonable activities, though surprising and incredible to the uninitiated. To the conversant the procedure of tracking down flowers is natural and plausible. After the eager encounter must come a sojourn long enough to learn the day and night habits of the plants, to photograph, to press a specimen and perhaps take some seed, to study the symbiotic relationship between vegetation and its attending insects. Not until intimacy has been established can a move be made to the next stand…

“On such a jaunt, there should be no itinerary and no plan to be at a certain place at a set date. The wanderer simply follows the more flowery train, never knowing what awaits him nor whatever the day’s work will cover one or ten miles. He does not always get what he thinks he will, but the law of compensation brings unlooked for finds and in some other way adds to his growing fund of information.” On a Trail of Beauty, The Sierra Nevada: The Range of Light. Roderick Peattie, editor. 1947. The Vanguard Press.

"I wish there were a word one could use instead of the acquisitive-sounding ‘collecting’ which has such a vampirish and predatory ring. Intelligent collecting is a conservation measure; indeed the work is legitimate only when done with knowledge and forethought, and when the motive is the preservation of the plants themselves.” Hardy Californians. 1936. Macmillan.

The 6th edition of "Diversity Amid Globalization" came out in January 2014

A fourth edition of Globalization and Diversity: Geography of a Changing World, Pearson, was published in January 2013


Lester Rowntree's classic 1936 book, "Hardy Californians", was republished in November 2006 by the University of California Press in a new, expanded format

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