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About Mary DeDecker

Mary DeDecker on a trip looking for Teufel Canyon and Caulostramina jaegeri.

Botanist, mother, author, environmental leader, avid outdoorswoman, homemaker, visionary, grandmother, educator, respected friend. These are just a few of the words that could be used to describe Mary DeDecker. She was born in Oklahoma (1909), then moved to Southern California during her childhood. In 1935, Mary, her husband Paul, and two young daughters moved to Independence. The family delighted in exploring the mountains and valleys of their vast and wild new home.

Mary’s long interest in plants drew her to closer inspection of the flora of the region. She became a self-taught botanist and began sending specimens to botanists at academic institutions throughout the country who were eager to receive plants from this remote region. On her own, Mary collected, keyed, and preserved thousands of plant specimens in a private herbarium in Paul’s well-kept garage. She became the undisputed authority on the flora of the eastern Sierra and northern Mojave.

Mary DeDecker in 1975

She discovered more than one plant species new to scientists and she and her daughters created the “common names” for many of the local wildflowers. One important desert foray led to her discovery of a shrub in the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae) that had not been previously described. The shrub turned out to be a new genus and was named in her honor, Dedeckera eurekensis (July gold); in fact, the canyon in which it was discovered was officially named DeDeckera Canyon!

As important as her discovery and cataloguing of the numerous species, Mary also worked tirelessly to preserve the unique habitats in which the plants were found. She served on committees and commissions, wrote informed letters and comments to government agencies, authored books and newspaper articles, influenced legislation, fought to save the ecological integrity of the Owens Valley from Los Angeles’ groundwater pumping activities, founded the Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and ultimately helped not only to raise the public’s awareness of the value of native plant species but also to preserve those species in their natural habitats.

Mary DeDecker examining a native plant

In September 2000, Mary DeDecker passed away, but her work will continue through the efforts of the many people she inspired.

Keep the Legacy Alive

Make a contribution in Mary’s memory. Donations may be sent to:

Bristlecone Chapter, CNPS
PO Box 364
Bishop, CA 93515