The history of California Native Plant Society

Juniperus grandis alpine. Credit J. Bisbee.

How do you start a movement?

As Margaret Mead once said, with one small group of committed citizens.

Berkeley, California – 1965. An eclectic mix of nature lovers, gardeners, and plant experts came together as The Bay Area Group to save Tilden Park’s native botanic garden. The group succeeded, and in doing so realized their cause was bigger than a single garden’s preservation. Located in the hills above the iconic campus, Tilden Park’s garden represented much of what a rapidly growing California stood to lose – a rare mix of biodiversity, a connection to the wild, and  a sense of this place we call home.

With that recognition, The Bay Area Group created the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), a volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation and celebration of California’s native flora. Within a decade, volunteers had established 15 chapters up and down the state.

Like its members, CNPS would bring together an unusual blend of science, horticulture, education, and conservation.

A rich tradition

Over the years, CNPS members have included photographer Ansel Adams, two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, US Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, and of course a host of legendary botanists like Philip Munz, Leydyard Stebbins, Lester Rowntree, and J.P. Smith, Jr.

Thanks to the visionary work of those early members, CNPS became the pre-eminent resource on California’s native plants, developing the state’s first Inventory of Rare and Endangered Vascular Plants of California and later A Manual of California Vegetation. In the years since, CNPS has created and contributed to legislation, thousands of authoritative articles, floras, reports, workshops, court cases, and databases as the primary and enduring voice for California’s native flora and places.

Looking ahead

Today, the work continues in the field, online, in meeting rooms, and in gardens. We’re fighting extinction, conserving public lands, making California more beautiful, and discovering new plant species at exponential rates.  Join us! The best is yet to come!

CNPS Marin chapter, 1971.
CNPS Marin chapter, 1971.

Timeline of accomplishments

A quick glance at our major milestones.

Credit David Magney.
Credit David Magney.

The work continues

See what we’re working on today!

Sampling in Butte.
Sampling in Butte.

Our people

Meet the individuals behind the mission.


Become a member and get connected with your local chapter today!

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