Exploring Balboa Park May 2015

By Johnny McDonald

Natural History Museum’s botany curator said it was bizarre the way San Diego’s weather pattern has changed the growth cycle of plant life.

“It started out okay this year but after the unseasonable Santa Ana winds, everything dried up so quickly; much, much shorter than it usually does,” said Dr. Jon Rebman.

“Plants sprouted a month earlier on the coast then died off from unseasonable Santa Ana winds,” he said. “It shortened our ability to assess because the annuals (plants) are real fragile.”

Then there was a reverse trend in the desert.

Johnny McDonald

Johnny McDonald

“People were cheering because there was hardly any Sahara mustard, which usually takes over blooming flowers, he said.

Dr, Rebman said he’s not a big horticulturist but  “personally I’m a proponent of irrigation.  Grow a lot of succulents. very easily in our climate which is like the Mediterranean.  They make stunning landscapes for a fraction of the cost of grass and that kind of stuff.”

“Who knows what makes up our diversity which is timed by rainfall. Those  Santa Anas in the middle of our normal rain season. was truly unusual.”

He added that more of those winds create the  potential for fostering fires in the county.

He pointed out that San Diego Zoo’s varied plants from all over the world indicates that anything can grow here.

Dr. Rebman  spends a good deal of time in Mexico as he says: “to have a better understanding of the mountain ranges and to bring back specimens.”

The Botany Department houses a research collection of nearly 250,000 specimens of native and naturalized plants of the southwestern United States and Baja California.

There are about 400 type specimens with hi-resolution scans available to search.

Big Top Science 

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is unveiling a  summer exhibition called CIRCUS: Science Under the Big Top.

It will feature 20 interactive exhibits from clown makeup to the art of contortion to animal communication.

Visitors can experience  the tricks of sword swallowing,  the illusion of the flea circus  juggling and acrobatics,

They can test how their center of gravity works on the balance bar. The feats of strength exhibit will show how leverage, compression and tension are used.

“Science is everywhere you look,” said Steve Snyder, CEO of the Fleet Science Center. “Scientific concepts have been incorporated into performance and entertainment for centuries. An exhibition such as CIRCUS: Science Under the Big Top gives a context for understanding science outside of the typical realms of classrooms and labs.”

Elsewhere in the Park–Museums gear up for the second quarter of the Centennial  with an assortment of special exhibiions when the summer vacationers begin to fill the park. A few highlights:

House of Pacific Relations   —  35th-Annual Ethnic Food Fair when over 30 different cultures traditional costumes present popular dishes, desserts, and beverages and display, May 24.

Spanish Village Art Center —  A continual display of polymer clay work by world-renowned masters and local artists chosen by jury.

Timken Museum of Art —   A special loan display of one of Vermeer’s most beautiful paintings that demonstrate the artist’s exceptional command of color, light, and perspective. May 11-Sept. 11.

—After an award winning, 38-year sports-writing career with the San Diego Union and authoring three books, Johnny McDonald now considers writing a hobby. You can reach him at

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