by LINDA FRABL | photos by Soul of Photography

Planting Roots

volunteer_blanco2A plant geneticist job brought Michael Blanco to Encinitas in the early 1990s, but an employment opportunity to work with the US Department of Agriculture at Iowa State University’s Plant Introduction Research Station took Michael to the Midwest from 2002 through 2014. When he and his wife Janice retired, they headed back to their home in Encinitas, which they still owned. Happy to be on the West Coast again where his grown children live, Michael professed, “Encinitas offers so much of everything we enjoy – proximity to nature and the beach, warm climate, great restaurants, healthy food, and very friendly people.”

Encinitas also enables Michael to volunteer where his passion lies: botany, specifically conservation and the utilization of genetic resources. Michael maintained, “Genetic resources for all plant species are in serious decline due to habitat loss. There are many endangered or threatened plant species that need attention or they’ll be gone forever.” He now spends his free time as a trained naturalist with the “Lagoon Platoon” at the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy (SELC), and as a docent for the San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG).


Name: Michael H. Blanco
Community: Encinitas
Volunteer Affiliation: Naturalist – San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy; Docent – San Diego Botanic Garden
Profession: Retired in 2014; previously a plant geneticist, USDA-ARS located in Ames, IA
Hobbies: Native plant studies, playing bocci ball, bird watching, travelling, and hiking with my wife. We especially enjoy National Parks.
Favorite Local Spots: Moonlight Beach, Swami’s Self Realization Gardens, YMCA, Lotus Café, Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream.

volunteer_blanco3In addition to leading tours at both locations, Michael does much more. At the SDBG, Michael exclaimed, “I work in beautification of the gardens and participate in such events as the Fall Plant Sale, the Gala in the Garden, the Garden of Lights in December, and ‘Free Tuesdays’ on the first Tuesday of each month.” As for his SELC duties, Michael explained, “I’m involved in native plant restoration and invasive plant removal. The Lagoon Platoon also has their own native plant nursery which allows wonderful hands-on experiences such as collecting seeds from native plants, growing them in the nursery, transplanting them in the lagoon, and doing survivorship studies.”

The best part about volunteering for Michael is seeing the positive reactions from the students he educates. He elaborated, “I enjoy teaching children about native plants, and the connections plants have to birds and wildlife. My favorite topic/walk is adaptations, which covers plants, birds, insects, crabs, fish, etc., and their ecological connections. The most satisfying moment is when a young person says, ‘I can’t wait till I come back!’”

Group: San Diego Botanic Garden
Mission: To inspire people of all ages to connect with plants and nature.

Group: San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy
Mission: To protect and restore the resources of the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, its watershed, and related ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations.