About Us

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  • Who are we?
  • Why did you create this website?
  • A work in progress
  • Tim and Paul's Guiding Principles
  • Who are we?

    Tim Lukaszewski and Paul Preston. We’re neither career botanists nor professional photographers, but we're passionate about plants. Although we’ve both had other professional careers, both of us have studied botany for many years and taken field classes throughout California. Tim also has an M.S.in horticulture. We’ve hiked and backpacked throughout California. As old-time antique collectors who used to prowl around shops and flea markets, we now use our scavenger hunting skills to find plants. One of the wonderful benefits of seeking out native plants is that it has taken us to all 58 California counties, and we’ve gotten to spend time in coastal, mountain, desert, and forest habitats. Photographing native plants also takes up a lot less room than antiques.

    We’ve been fortunate to add Gregg Weber to our team. He has been with us from the start of our database and website creation. Gregg is the ideal blend of programmer and botanist. Without his ongoing expertise and scrutiny, this site wouldn’t exist.

    Although we took most of the photos on this website, we were fortunate to have knowledgeable botanists who contributed photos to help fill in some of the gaps. We encourage you to contribute your own photos to expand the range and quality of this website (Contributing Your Photos to Total-Plant).

    Why did you create this website?

    We’ve been hiking, botanizing and photographing native plants for several decades. As we try to key out plants that we see, we try to confirm what we’ve identified by looking at photos of the plant – sometimes in a book, sometimes online. The main problem we’ve run into is that, often, the photos that are available only show a plant’s flower – not the leaf, fruit or entire plant. If we don’t have the flower to help with identification, we’re not always sure we’ve got it right. To address this problem, we decided to create a collection of photos that shows the plant’s habitat, the entire plant, leaf, flower and fruit. This often means going back at different times of the year to capture the “total plant.” We wanted to create a website that provides others with help identifying and learning about native plants. We’ve tried to make the site useful to a wide range of first-timers as well as seasoned professionals.

    Our vision for Total Plant seems to have caught the native plant identification wave. Since we originally launched this website in 2013, more and more identification resources in California as well as other sites now include a lot of the same ideas to help identify plants – that is, not only by their flower, but by other parts like leaves, fruit or habitat. Several sites have developed MEKA keys which allow you to identify plants other than by just flowers. We think this is a great trend.

    A work in progress

    Even though we’ve been at this for over 40 years, we’ve only scratched the surface of California’s native plants. Right now, we have photos of over 3,000 California native plants in our database – out of nearly 8,000 California plants. Not only are there many native plants that we haven’t seen or photographed, but we don’t have a complete set of photos for the plants we’ve seen. Our goal is to show a "Total-Plant" (habitat, plant, leaf, flower and fruit) for each of California’s native plants.

    We’re trying to make our site more user-friendly – especially to those who might be just curious or starting to learn about plants. Besides simplifying the site’s organization, we now include more illustrations and tool-tips with photo examples.

    Tim and Paul’s Guiding Principles of Native Plant Photography

  • When you come across a new plant and take a zillion photos, just around the corner there will be lots more and much better ones.
  • When you’re driving and spot a new plant, if you decide to keep going because surely there will be lots more of this plant just ahead – there won’t be.
  • Your favorite plant names are the most likely ones to be changed. RIP Zauschneria, Satureja and Hyptis.
  • When you plan to botanize in a new area, don’t be surprised if you never make it out of the parking lot.
  • Your circle of friends will change when you become a native plant photographer. Some friends will avoid walking or hiking with you because you are too slow. However, new friendships will develop because you are so slow.
  • Just like with elements in the periodic table, there will always be a plant family name that you’ve never seen or heard of before.
  • Unless you hike with an electron microscope, there will always be a critical tiny plant part necessary to ID a plant that you can’t make out for the life of you.
  • You can hike for miles all day looking for a particular plant only to discover that it’s growing right where you started.
  • Manual focus is always preferable to autofocus – until you turn 40.
  • Wind is your enemy.
  • You prefer photographing plants to people and animals because plants don’t move or talk back. (See exception above: Wind is your enemy.)
  • Poison oak is really an alien race with an agenda: it can disguise itself in any form and lurk in almost any habitat.
  • Even if hiking at high elevations causes you to be short of breath or get altitude sickness, at least you don’t have to keep watching out for poison oak.
  • Everyone has a favorite invasive plant that they secretly don’t mind if it spreads all over the place.