David Verity, the longtime manager of the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden who assisted director Mildred Mathias and was a widely recognized expert horticulturalist, died this month in Los Angeles after a long illness. He was 90.
Under Verity’s management, UCLA’s botanical garden has become an oasis of biodiversity. It currently houses more than 3,000 plants.
Verity made major contributions to Southern California horticulture by cultivating new drought-tolerant plants from his personal international collections. He also worked with Mathias to propagate seeds that she brought back from her travels, and this led to a major expansion of the garden’s plant collection.
Verity’s careful plant breeding work led to new hybrids that are widely planted in gardens today, including, most notably, aloes, bush monkeyflowers, iochromas, and prides of Madeira. This work and his decades-long leadership role with the Southern California Horticultural Society made him a living legend. The immense respect he received among his colleagues is demonstrated by the many plant species, Buprestid beetles and crab spiders named in his honor.
Born in Los Angeles in 1930, Verity was a native Californian. After serving in the military during the Korean War, he enrolled at UCLA and graduated in 1959 with a degree in ornamental horticulture. His horticultural studies were supplemented by a strong campus curriculum in botany, led by Mathias. Shortly after graduating, he began working as a nurseryman in the botanical garden. His love for and dedication to the garden and its plants continued for 33 years, and he spent most of this time in charge of the collection as garden manager. He retired in 1992.
Beyond his interest in plants, Verity was long fascinated, like Charles Darwin, by beetles. Over the course of his life he assembled a massive and scientifically valuable collection of Buprestid beetles, also known as metallic woodboring or jeweled beetles. He donated his personal collection of nearly 44,000 specimens to the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis in 2016.
The legacy of Verity’s work at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden continues today. Every year, several thousand students visit the garden, where biology, geology, atmospheric sciences and art courses are all taught, giving students a way to experience the beauty of nature without stepping off campus.