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By Jon Hammond
Land of Four Seasons 

The remarkable Mrs. Katherine Curran Brandegee, botanist adventurer

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi


September 12, 2020

Jon Hammond

Katherine Curran Brandegee was one of California's pioneering botanists. Collected many "firsts" botanical specimens in the Tehachapi Mountains.

In June 1884, Katherine Layne Curran (later Brandegee) travelled from Bakersfield to Mojave; the trip must have been one of the most successful brief trips in California botanical history. On this trip, in addition to much other material, Mrs. Curran collected the types for no fewer than 14 currently accepted taxa (species or subspecies)! This feat was even more remarkable when one considers that the month was June, not a particularly favorable one for collecting in the region, and that much collecting had been done for years in similar regions in counties to the south and the north. Further, almost all were collected close to the railroad right-of-way or in the vicinity of stations. Among them are such characteristic plants of the region as milkvetch, blue curls and desert bitterbrush. Another was what was to be long considered one of the rarest of California plants; for 81 years, hers was to be the only recorded collection of spreading pygmyleaf. Others included fiddleneck, mountain goldenstar, cottony buckwheat, rockjasmine monkeyflower and others.

Jon Hammond

Katherine Brandegee rode, walked and took a train throughout the Tehachapis.

Mrs. Curran married fellow botanist Townsend Stith Brandegee in San Diego on May 29, 1889. One is hard put to decide whether their wedding trip was one of botanical history's most romantic scientific or scientific romantic treks; they leisurely hiked to San Francisco, collecting in the coastal mountains as they went. Collections by the Brandegees attributed to Tehachapi Valley are extant. Mrs. Brandegee, Curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences from 1883 to 1894, was an indefatigable collector, often making lengthy trips to collect a single species. It was trips of this sort that probably led her back to Kern County. She collected at Tehachapi, Caliente and Kramer in 1905. In 1909, she collected at what were apparently railroad stops from Bealeville to Tehachapi.

– Ernest Twisselmann

Ernest Twisselmann was a cattle and sheep rancher turned botanist who spent nine years writing the indispensable Flora of Kern County, a listing of all the plants in Kern County.


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