UW suffered a tremendous loss this month with the passing of Professor Sarah Reichard. To other faculty members, Sarah embodied what we work so hard to become. She was a scholar who relentlessly pursued scientific understanding and — as importantly — shared what she discovered with communities so they could use new knowledge to improve our world.
A self-described “consummate plant geek,” Sarah inherited a love of all things botanical from her mother, a plant geneticist, and her father, an avid gardener. A first year botany class at the University of Washington catalyzed her interest in research and she went on to earn a B.S. in Botany, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Forest Resources.
In 1997, Sarah began a storied career as a faculty member at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, then known as the College of Forest Resources. Over a career spanning two decades, she studied invasive plant biology, including methods to predict, detect and assess new invaders based on sound science. Sarah also studied the effects of invasive and nonnative plants on native ecosystems, explored the impacts of human disturbance on rare species, and illuminated how horticultural techniques could contribute to species reintroductions.
Like other early pioneers in conservation biology, she recognized that conservation efforts required interdisciplinary approaches to succeed. Using her indomitable spirit and sense of humor, Sarah brought together people with different economic, social, environmental and cultural perspectives to improve plant conservation programs. In this vein, she founded and served as director of Rare Care, whose citizen science-based model is nationally recognized for its pivotal role in monitoring Washington state’s threatened and endangered plant species.
Among her many accolades, she was vice president of the Pacific Northwest Invasive Plant Council, held a six-year tenure on the Federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee and served on the Invasive Species Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. She co-authored a report for the National Research Council, “Predicting Invasions of Nonindigenous Plants and Plant Pests,” co-edited Invasive Species in the Pacific Northwest, and authored The Conscientious Gardener: Cultivating a Garden Ethic. She also found time to mentor young women entering plant conservation and research fields, a role that many of her former students cite as pivotal to their professional success. Her curriculum vitae is peppered with innumerable service records from boards, working groups and advisory committees on topics including invasive plant ecology, management, policy and education.
In 2011, she was named director of the UW Botanic Gardens, a role that united her gifts for academic scholarship and public education. During her too-brief tenure, she expanded the gardens’ reach to preschoolers, retirees, and all ages in between through music, art, outdoor learning and hands-on volunteer programs in the Washington Park Arboretum and the Center for Urban Horticulture. A principled problem solver, she navigated the complex SR 520 mitigation process for the Arboretum with grace, finding paths for compromise between stakeholders without wavering on the protection of native plants. Through it all, Sarah remained committed to research, serving as a committee chair for multiple UW Botanic Gardens and UW-affiliated graduate students.
Sarah’s passion for plants took her around the world. She traveled to Chile, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Morocco, Australia, South Africa and Cuba (four times!). But South Africa was always among her favorite travel spots. She loved its food, wildlife, and the endemic plants found nowhere else. Even when she led trips for UW Botanic Gardens, Sarah never stopped learning: she wrote regularly with much chagrin that she’d become a birder after years of openly preferring plants.
It’s hard to put into words how much we will miss Sarah. Our hearts are with her husband, Brian, her family and friends, and the untold number of people across the world whose lives are richer for knowing her. If you would like to read some of the many beautiful tributes that have been written, we encourage you to visit the comments sections and blogs of the School of Environmental and Forestry Sciences, UW Botanic Gardens and the American Public Gardens Association.
If you would like to make a gift in honor of Sarah’s extraordinary life and legacy, please consider the Prof. Sarah E. Reichard Endowed Fund for UW Botanic Gardens – which supports public education, outreach, student education, research and general maintenance and improvement of gardens and plant collections – or the newly created Sarah Reichard Endowed Fellowship to support UW Botanic Gardens-affiliated graduate students.
The UW Botanic Gardens will host a celebration of life in honor of Sarah Reichard on Thursday, October 13, from 2-8 p.m. Full details are available here, on the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences’ Offshoots blog.
Dean, College of the Environment
Mary Laird Wood Professor