Celia Kutcher (December 1938 – November 2019)

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With great regret and sadness, we report the passing of Celia Kutcher on November 5, 2019. 

A lover of all things native and original. Celia was a botanist, naturalist, and horticulturalist all rolled into one. She enjoyed the fragrance of our coastal sage, the sound of its birds, the spring flowers of the chaparral, the smell of winter rains, a rare plant found, the shade of an oak woodland, and her glorious home garden. She loved all of California’s wildlands but Orange County was her home and we were lucky to have her, and how we will miss her in so many ways.

Celia was a founding member of the Orange County chapter and for almost 4 decades she served enthusiastically and efficiently in almost every chapter office, program, project, and committee. I doubt there is a single part of our Chapter’s work that Celia Kutcher had not touched at some point in her efforts to form, guide, and support the Orange County Chapter of CNPS.

Her example was sterling. She attended almost every board and general meeting and her steady involvement with everything from outreach events, chapter organization, special projects, membership events and more--all helped the chapter to thrive. She was a meaningful part of every board meeting, chapter planning session, email discussion, or conference call related to native plants or wildlands. Her practical advice on a broad range of chapter issues often came peppered with a historical perspective.

Of course, for most people who knew Celia it was as the guiding light of our Conservation program. Among many things, she will be remembered for her decades of struggle to save native habitat, rare plants, special plant communities, and uphold the laws that protect them.

Her example of hard work, an unselfish nature, and a steady unswerving commitment to all the needs of the chapter were accompanied by her kindness, a wry sense of humor, and a genuine joy in helping accomplish what is right. She has been inspirational. As a constant for southern California native plant conservation and a much loved and inspiring chapter leader, Celia received many awards and honors culminating in being named a Fellow of the California Native Plant Society, the Society’s highest honor.

Here in the Orange County Chapter of CNPS that she helped start, her loss will be felt for years to come.

Click Celia's picture above to bring up an image gallery. An online obituary where condolences and messages can be posted is here:


For a more detailed biography of Celia, read on.

Born in Santa Ana, family photos shows a very young lady at home in both wilderness settings and while gardening with her family. When she was in her early teens the family settled in San Clemente (in the early 1950’s) and after graduating from Capistrano Union High school and later from Orange Coast College, she married and settled in Capistrano Beach, raising two sons while being very active in P.T.A. and Cub Scouts.

PTA, Yes. But her passion for native plants and a growing awareness of conservation concerns were emerging in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when she resolved to return to school and pursue an education and career that would enable her to effectively work towards conservation and preservation of natural habitats. We can imagine her, having lived most of her life in Orange County, watching the encroaching homes and roads fragment the lands she loved and being quietly motivated to help somehow.

So, Celia attended Saddleback College in the early days of that institution and from there went on to earn her Bachelor degree in in both botany and plant ecology and Masters degree in environmental studies from California State University Fullerton.  While a student at CSUF she played an integral part in planning and development of the Fullerton Arboretum and went on to be a curator of the plant collection there for over 20 years.  Later, she also played a role in developing several sections of the Arboretum at the University of California, Irvine.


It was a natural thing that Celia and CNPS would get together but there was no chapter here in Orange County! Celia was there to help in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as the Chapter “came and went” with field trips and such but no real structure or regular meetings. This waxing and waning continued until 1982 when Celia and others held a formal organizational meeting to insure meetings became more regular and chapter officers took active roles. Celia was in the heart of things then as she was throughout the rest of her life.

This link with the Orange County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society would become very important in her life and of course she was instrumental in keeping the Chapter running and growing.

Chapter Growth and Stability:

Celia’s persistence and expertise in a very broad range of chapter matters helped the chapter to grow in both numbers and substance. Her involvement in so many chapter positions and roles over the years has led us to become a very active chapter. We are grateful for her early work as membership chair, newsletter editor, Invasive weed management, publicity chair, program chair, her involvement with many state CNPS issues, and even the “little things” that are so important and are not really little at all. For example, Celia has always been active in “tabling” outreach events. She created displays, stored the supplies, designed, ordered, and reordered flyers, and lugged it all to the events where, with her remarkable assortment of bungee cords, she would set it all up. She was definitely a detail person and how many times during a prep meeting before an event would Celia pull out a chart showing our inventory of handouts, or flyers or banners and what would be needed? How many times when an event needed another hand to help would she volunteer? Her unselfish nature came to the Chapter’s rescue many times.

Native Horticulture in OC:

As Plant Sales Chair and later Co-Chair, Celia helped establish and enlarge the Chapter’s most important fundraiser and native plant publicity event for over 20 years. Working with UC Irvine Arboretum as one of our early sales sites, Celia ordered plants, helped with volunteer assignments, set-up, made the signage, kept meticulous notes regarding plant sales and improvements to be made each year, and personally took the unsold plants back to the nursery. She set a tireless example for those working alongside her. These sales helped put our Chapter on the map as a source of native plants and advice regarding growing them. Celia was vital to the success of the sale each and every year.


As a member of the OC-CNPS speaker bureau, Celia shared her knowledge of native plant cultivation and care. She had taught classes regarding the use of native plants to the local UC Master Gardener Programs, and was a Presenter at the OC Chapter’s first “At Home with Natives” symposium in 2009 at Golden West College and was a strong committee member for the symposia in later years. She was also a contributor to Fremontia (COASTAL SAGE SCRUB: A SUSTAINABLE HOME LANDSCAPE Vol 40, No. 3). She regularly had her lovely home garden (one of the earliest true native landscapes in Orange County) on our chapter Native Garden tour.

Conservation Issues:

Celia’s most important work has been in the conservation of our native flora here in Orange County and the southern California region. For over twenty five years Celia put her considerable talents to work to conserve our wildlands and assist other groups do the same and has served as the Chapter’s Conservation point person both during her many terms as Chapter Vice President and later when we defined the position, as our Conservation Chair. Though of a somewhat quiet nature Celia was persistently vocal in things that mattered, particularly at the many meetings she attended for environmental causes. It would be impossible to list all the conservation issues she has been intimately involved with.

Celia directly oversaw the Chapter Board’s involvement in all efforts to protect our County Wildlands, including numerous legal actions throughout the county and beyond.  Whether it was straight litigation or amicus briefs, Celia meticulously provided our Chapter Board as well as the State CNPS Litigation Committee and CNPS’ Board of Directors accurate and thorough information on which to base the CNPS decision to become involved in these issues. While the complexity of the situations coupled with the law can be daunting, Celia was always well prepared, spending countless hours reading legal documents and writing extensive and expert letters in response with a thorough understanding of the issues. Her written comments on behalf of CNPS and the Orange County Chapter are succinct and clear. Whether on realistic fire/fuel management strategies, watershed issues, toll road proposals, many  CEQA related issues, Draft EIR and EIR biological resources reviews, invasive plant topics, or NCCP actions, her detailed language was accurate and well supported, her tone was never strident or accusatory, always courteous and professional. Despite her obvious bias for saving our native plants and wildlands, she was appreciated among friend and foes as a balanced voice in fighting the many forms of urban sprawl and other threats to our native flora.

With her vast knowledge of the issues, organizations, and people, she was highly regarded as the spokesperson for conservation and has formed alliances with many local conservation groups and leaders in the southern California region. She was proactive regarding conservation threats that came up, and alerted chapter members through her highly regarded newsletter articles and the conservation table she set up at most of our general meetings. She made sure that our Chapter Board was aware of pending threats in our region, summarizing the issues and recommending action to our Board. Celia was always there and she was persistent. When it comes to the long fight to protect our flora and its habitat, Celia was Orange County CNPS’s leading warrior for over three decades. This is what Celia was known for and she was rightly the face of OC-CNPS Conservation.

Her family and her friends, from many parts of the conservation and plant world, will miss her unmatched knowledge and her steady, diligent presence. She leaves a very valuable legacy, and her work will continue to protect Orange County plants and habitats well into the future.

Her family requests that donations in lieu of flowers can be made payable to California Native Plant Society, Orange County Chapter, with a note on the check FOR/MEMO field indicating a donation honoring Celia Kutcher, mailed to: P.O. Box 54891, Irvine, CA 92619-4891.

Rough Celia Kutcher Timeline:

  • 1978-1982:  Founding Member of the Orange County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.
  • 1978 to 2000: Curator of the plant collections for the Fullerton Arboretum (at California State University, Fullerton). During that time she also led design and planting efforts in both “Chaparral Hill” and the native landscape of Oak Hall.
  • 1982-2019: Served on the OC-CNPS Board of Directors, uninterrupted for over 35 years.
  • 1994-2019: Served 25 years as OC CNPS Conservation Chair.
  • 1996-2011: Attended State CNPS Meetings for over 15 years, contributing to discussions of various topics but especially active in breakout sessions related to conservation and horticulture.
  • 1990-2019: Celia a main component in OC Chapter Horticulture
  • 1992-2010: served as the main OC CNPS volunteer at University of California, Irvine Arboretum as lead in developing several sections of the arboretums California sections.
  • 1994-2019: Served the statewide CNPS Conservation Team as general support. During the last 25 years Celia has done meaningful work as a member of CNPS conservation teams including serving as the OC Chapter link with State CNPS on all things conservation related in southern California (including close work with the CNPS Litigation Committee since 2003.) During this time, Celia's Chapter and regionally-focused information provided synergistic support to other Chapter’s Conservation Chairs and the Conservation Program Director.
  • 1997-2001: Celia helped form and then Chair the Dana Point Headlands Action Coalition in an effort to block development of the last undeveloped headland in Orange County. Eeventually a partial victory was won with the scaling down and shifting the footprint of the original project.
  • 1998-2005 and 2018-2019: Provided CNPS Conservation Staff Support specifically for Southern California. Celia worked for many years with CNPS Southern California Regional Botanist, Ileene Anderson, and looked forward to working with new CNPS Southern California Conservation Analyst, Nick Jensen.
  • 1999: Celia named the Board Member of the Year for Orange County Chapter of CNPS
  • 2003-2019: Advised State CNPS Litigation Committee on our regional conservation needs.
  • 2008: was presented with the Orange County Chapter’s highest honor, the “Native Perennial Award” for her long and energetic support of the Orange County Chapter of CNPS and its many programs.
  • 2009-2019:  Actively served on the Statewide CNPS Policy Committee. Although she did contribute broadly, she was especially active leading the effort developing the current CNPS NATIVE PLANTS AND FIRE SAFETY POLICY adopted by CNPS Chapter Council March 13, 2010.
  • 2010-2019: Celia worked with Greg Suba (CNPS Conservation Chair), serving as our Chapter’s Representative on statewide Conservation Chair conference calls, sharing her knowledge and experience related to on-going litigation projects, regional conservation planning, and vegetation treatment projects and plans.
  • 2019: Named a Fellow of the California Native Plant Society-The Society’s highest honor. The award was presented here in Orange County, with both the Society’s President, Executive Director, and representatives of each Chapter of CNPS present, as well as the Board members from her Orange County Chapter.

Some of the specific chapter offices, roles and activities she has held include:

OC-CNPS Founding Member (Very late 1970’s-1982)  

OC-CNPS Board Member (From early 1980-2019)

OC CNPS Chapter Vice President: (Multiple terms, 1986-88; 1990-2002)

OC CNPS Conservation Chair (1994-2019)

OC-CNPS Exotic/Invasive Plant Management Team (1996-2008; 2015-2019)

OC-CNPS Program Chair (1985-1988)

OC CNPS Field Trip Committee (1988-1996)

OC CNPS Newsletter Editor (1990-1992)

OC CNPS Plant Sales Chair or Co-Chair (1988-2008)

OC-CNPS Newsletter Editor (1988-1992)

OC-CNPS Publicity Chair (1996-2002)

OC-CNPS Chapter Historian (2002-2019)

OC-CNPS Grant Committee (2014-2019)

OC-CNPS Membership Chair-(1993-2002)

OC-CNPS Website Committee: (2012-2019)

OC CNPS Outreach Team Member-(1994-2019)