Ozark Outdoors

Dr. Peter Raven will speak in Springfield

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Dr. Peter Raven at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

Dr. Peter Raven at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

On Aug. 23, 2014, the Missouri Prairie Foundation Annual Dinner will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the White River Conference Center in Springfield will feature Dr. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, recipient of the National Medal of Science, former Guggenheim Fellow, and recipient of TIME Magazine’s “Hero for the Planet” Award.

Tickets are $100, or $700 for a table for eight. They may be purchased online. Details of the event are at MoPrairie.org.

Raven is one of the world’s leading botanists and advocates of conservation and biodiversity. He also plans a visit to the Springfield Botanical Gardens on the morning of the dinner.

For four decades, Raven headed the Missouri Botanical Garden, an institution he nurtured into a world-class center for botanical research and education, and horticultural display. He retired as president in 2010 and assumed the role of president emeritus and consultant through 2014.

In recognition of his work in science and conservation, Raven is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the prestigious International Prize for Biology from the government of Japan and the U.S. National Medal of Science, the country’s highest award for scientific accomplishment. He has held Guggenheim and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Dr. Peter Raven

Dr. Peter Raven

Raven was a member of President Bill Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, and served 12 years as home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences. He and academy member in Argentina, Brazil, China, Denmark, India, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, the U.K., and other countries.
The author of numerous books and reports, both popular and scientific, Raven co-wrote Biology of Plants, an internationally best-selling textbook now in its sixth edition. He also co-authored Environment, a leading textbook on the environment.

OZL: You’ve spent a lifetime as a scientist and more than four decades motivating people at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Why is it so important that we have public community gardens?

Raven: To give people to understand and appreciate the sheer beauty and wonder of plants, and their huge diversity.  We have some 2800 kinds of native and naturalized plants in Missouri and about 19,000 in the United States as a whole. Plants provide all of our food directly and indirectly and even for those of us who get our drugs in drugstores, about a quarter of a medicines.  For the two-thirds of the people in the world who do not have access to drugstores, plants are their medicines.  For protecting the soil on hillsides and elsewhere, moderating the flow of water, providing pollinating insects for our crops, absorbing polluting, storing  carbon as a hedge against global warming – for these and many other reasons, plants are of fundamental importance, and public gardens are places where we and our children can learn about them and thus come to appreciate and protect them.

The Monarch butterfly seems to be in great peril, along with many other species of flora and fauna, rain forests and even the prairies that provide habitat for wildlife. Are you optimistic that the onslaught can be turned around?

Planting milkweeds will encourage monarchs, and the species isn’t in danger of extinction, but its spectacular migration from as far as southern Canada to the mountains of central Mexico could be endangered if there aren’t milkweeds for the larvae and nectar-source plants for the adults all along the way, from northern Mexico to Ontario.  We can all help by planting those plants and encouraging native areas on farms and all around us.  It’s one of nature’s great spectacles, and we have a role conserving it and in keeping the lands around us healthy.

Are you a gardener yourself? 

I’ve never been much of a gardener personally, but my wife Patricia, who earned her Ph.D. in horticulture at The Ohio State University, is an avid one and keeps me involved!  I am certainly interested in what people plant in their gardens for beauty, enjoyment, food, and the protection of nature, and have taken a strong interest in helping them find choices all my adult life.

As a father and grandfather, what brings you joy even now in the world around us.

The beauty and diversity of all life on earth, our blessing, and the opportunities we all have in protecting is against challenges of all kinds.  In doing so, we will each help to keep the world beautiful and sustainable for all who come after us, which is to my mind both an opportunity and an obligation in view of all that we have been given during our lives.

Who might you most like to see in the room when you speak in Springfield on Aug. 23 at the MPF annual dinner?

People who have room in their minds and hearts to act to protect the living world, Creation, for our common benefit.  Statistics and hard, factual arguments about all that is wrong with the world will never get us there, but our joy and determination to protect our world can do that.  About a tenth of the U.S. population attended Earth Day in 1970, some 20 million people; where are their equivalents today?  Popular determination, amounting a sea change in our attitudes, and our moral commitment to save the world will eventually convince our increasing polarized citizenry and politicians to rise about their small and often selfish aims and resolve to take measure to maintain the integrity of our limited and stressed, unique planetary home.  This might seem preaching to the quire, but we need to do much more than is currently the case if we truly want to change minds and save the world from ourselves and our fellow citizens.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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