An Accomplished Botanist

Morgan was one of the premier contemporary naturalists and collectors of the Central Coast of California. As a botanist, Morgan tracked the diversity of plants in the Santa Cruz Mountains since the early 1970s. His voucher collection of over 5,000 plants (all held by the Norris Center) and plant releveés from over 500 locations spanning the last 35 years have formed the basis for our understanding of the current botanical diversity within the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 2005, Morgan and others published An Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Santa Cruz County, which contains a full list of Santa Cruz County plants as well as detailed taxonomic notes, lists of endangered plants and county endemics, and maps of the diverse habitats found in the county. This second edition of this book was published by Dylan Neubauer, a renowned local botanist who first learned her botany from Morgan. 

As a plant taxonomist, Morgan described a number of new species, including: Agrostis lacuni-vernalis, Polygonum hickmanii, Piperia candida, P. colemanii, P. elegans, Rydb. subsp. decurtata, P. yadonii, Trifolium jokerstii, and Trifolium piorkowskii.  He re-discovered several species once thought to be extinct, including the Scotts Valley spineflower (Chorizanthe robusta var. hartwegii) and a rare popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys glaber). He also made numerous contributions to our understanding of the distributions of buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.), manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.), and many plant groups. 

His continued work on several species complexes within the Trifolium genus led him to collect and observe species of Trifolium beyond central California. His extensive notes and collected specimens from over 20 years of study made him a world authority on this genus. Currently, an unfinished and unpublished manuscript describing the Trifolium genus and many new rare species in California is awaiting further work. 


An Eleven Year Entomological Diversion

In the late 1980’s Morgan turned his attention to insects as well as plants. From 1989-1999, Morgan collected over 70,000 insect specimens from 39 different locations county-wide. His intention was to document potential pollinator visits to all flowering plants at a given site over an entire year. To accomplish this task, he visited a site once every three weeks for an entire year (approximately 17 visits). At each site he walked a transect that included representatives of every plant species he knew to exist there (based on his extensive plant surveys dating back to the 1970s). Using a sweep net along each transect, Morgan collected every insect he found on or near each plant. If multiple individuals from one species of insect were present, he often collected all of them and recorded which plant/flower they were collected from. The only exception he made to this was for honey bees (Apis mellifera). In this case, he just recorded which plants he saw them visiting and how many were at each plant. For any insect that he failed to catch with his sweep net, he recorded it in his notes (with an ID to the best of his ability) along with its floral associate. In addition to pollinator specimens, Morgan kept detailed plant phenological notes over the entire year, including: beginning and end bloom dates for each plant species, a list of plant species in bloom during each collection day, the intensity of bloom for each flowering species (e.g. early bloom, peak bloom, past peak, etc.), and in some cases the relative abundance of each plant species at each site.

Morgan discovered several new insect species while creating this collection. These included the Ohlone Tiger Beetle, Cicindela ohlone (Kavanaugh and Morgan 1993), which was immediately listed as a federally endangered species. In addition, Morgan discovered several other new species that currently await formal description. These include a solitary bee (Hesperapis sp.), a robber fly (Stenopogon sp.), and two flesh flies (Metopia sp. and Senotainia sp.). He also documented the presence of the Antioch sphecid wasp (Philanthus nasalis) in the sandhills, a species thought at the time to be extinct.