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Witty Botanist

San Diego Society of Natural History


By Jenny Pegg

Jane Goodall once called Reid Venable Moran "a sort of living myth in botanical exploration." Moran, '39, died on January 21, of pneumonia. He was 93.

Moran explored natural history with his father, Robert Breck Moran, Class of 1907. Reid studied biology at Stanford and obtained advanced degrees at Cornell and UC-Berkeley.

From 1942 to 1946, Moran served as a flight navigator in the Air Force. He and his crewmates were forced to bail out over hostile German territory in 1944. Moran parachuted into a tree and, true to his botanical training, took a moment to identify the spruce. The crew evaded Germans for weeks, hiking through mountainous terrain and running for cover during strafing. Colleague Myron Kimnach notes, "As he was walking across the country he collected a few bits of plants to dry them for the herbarium."

Moran worked for 25 years at the San Diego Museum of Natural History, serving as curator of botany from 1957 to 1982. He spent more than four decades documenting the threatened ecosystem on Isla Guadalupe, off Baja California. "They put goats on the islands so the sailing ships could stop and get meat," says Kimnach, "but the goats ate practically everything there except the trees." Spurred by Moran's observations, removal of the feral goat population began in 2004 and was declared complete in 2007. The island's plant life began to make a dramatic comeback.

Moran delighted in a well-executed joke, from putting "endangered species" stickers on the dinosaur exhibits to inserting a pun or two in his Latin botanical descriptions. During travels, he often tried to see what he could send, unwrapped, through various postal systems: a pumpkin, perhaps, or a dried manta ray, address label attached to the tail.

Survivors include his daughter, Jenna; his stepson, Matthew Boersma; and a sister, Katharine "Kaki" Cashman, '37. He was predeceased by brothers Robert Breck Moran Jr., '36, and William Rodes Moran, '42.

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