MS 303 Helen Chamlee Collection

Summary Information

San Diego History Center Document Collection
Chamlee, Helen
Helen Chamlee Collection
MS 303
Date [inclusive]
4.5 Linear feet (9 boxes)
This collection contains the personal papers, written works, and subject files of Helen Chamlee, a botanist at the San Diego Natural History Museum in the 1970s.

Preferred Citation

Helen Witham Chamlee Collection, MS 303, San Diego History Center Document Collection, San Diego, CA.

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Biographical / Historical Notes

Born Helen Vallejo in 1908, Chamlee was a native San Diegan who was dedicated to botany, especially native species. A graduate of San Diego State University, she joined the staff at the San Diego Natural History Museum in 1969. After seven years in the Botany Department, Chamlee transferred to the Educational Activities Department and remained there for the duration of her career. She led countless field trips to parks, mountains, and deserts of the region, gave lectures on native plants, participated in workshops, seminars, and trainings. She developed at least 14 nature trails in San Diego County. Perhaps her greatest achievement while at the Natural History Museum was securing Florida Canyon in Balboa Park as a native plant preserve. She is also responsible for creating the museum’s naturalist guide group, the Canyoneers.

Chamlee’s passion for native plants reached beyond her role at the Natural History Museum. She served as Botanical Editor for California Garden magazine, and was a contributing editor to Fremontia. She wrote a weekly column, “Canyon Trails,” that appeared in the Evening Tribune in the late 1970s, and published a book on the ferns of San Diego County. Chamlee was also a charter member of the California Native Plant Society, serving as President of the San Diego Chapter for two years, and was later honored as a Fellow. Her influence and contributions in the field were further recognized in 1977 when Chamlee received the honor award from the California Council of Landscape Architects. Additionally, a native plant garden at the Wild Animal Park (now Safari Park) was named after her. Chamlee developed a native botanic garden on her own two-acre property —dubbed Canyon Trails—and opened it once each year to public view.

Helen Chamlee died in 1982.

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Scope and Content

The collection contains Chamlee’s personal papers and writings as well as her subject files. Her writings include manuscripts of articles and her weekly newspaper column, “Canyon Trails.” The bulk of the collection contains subject files maintained by Chamlee. Most subjects pertain to botany, native plants, parks and canyons in San Diego County and other California locations, and fauna in relation to botany. The subject files often contain newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, and other types of publications in addition to Chamlee’s own notes pertaining to the subject. A large subject area focuses on Balboa Park and especially Florida Canyon and the efforts made to designate it as a native plant preserve. Field trip plans and handouts from the Natural History Museum are also well represented.

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This collection is arranged in two series:

Series I: Personal Papers;

Series II: Subject Files.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

San Diego History Center Document Collection August 18, 2016

1649 El Prado, Suite 3
San Diego, CA, 92101

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The San Diego History Center (SDHC) holds the copyright to any unpublished materials. SDHC Library regulations do apply.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Helen Chamlee’s files were given to her friend, Carol Greentree. Greentree later donated them to the San Diego History Center along with her own files and those of Jean Marie Consigny Putman—all three focusing on botany.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Frank Sweeney in 2014.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • San Diego Natural History Museum.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Anza-Borrego Desert (Calif.)
  • Balboa Park (San Diego, Calif.)
  • San Diego (Calif.)
  • Torrey Pines State Reserve (Calif.)


  • Arid regions plants
  • Botanical gardens
  • Botany
  • Cactus
  • Endemic plants
  • Fire resistant plants
  • Flowers
  • Gardens — California — San Diego
  • Native plant gardens–California
  • Nature trails–California
  • Parks
  • Wild flowers

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Collection Inventory

 Series I: Personal Papers

Manuscripts of articles, 1973-1979 1:1
Biographical Information, 1982-1991 1:2
Canyon Trails, 1977-1978 1:3
Canyon Trails, 1979-1980 1:4
Correspondence, 1976-1977 1:5
Correspondence—Sunset Magazine, 1972-1973 1:6
“Fremontia” Articles, 1978 1:7
Landscaping for “Buffer” Adjacent to Northerly Property Line, San Diego Consolidated Co., undated 1:8
Legal Documents, 1939-1947 1:9
Publication Ideas, 1973 1:10

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 Series II: Subject Files

American Society of Landscape Architects, 1977-1978 1:11
Anza-Borrego, 1977-1980 1:12
Arboreta and Botanical Gardens, c.1962-1981 1:13
Arizona (Desert Gardens), c.1980 1:14
Balboa Park—Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3), 1970-1978 1:15
Balboa Park—Florida Canyon (1 of 2), 1970-1976 1:16
Balboa Park—Florida Canyon (2 of 2), 1970-1980 2:1
Balboa Park—Florida Canyon Correspondence, 1969-1979 2:2
Balboa Park—Florida Canyon Field Trips, 1973 2:3
Balboa Park—Florida Canyon Master Plan, 1976 2:4
Balboa Park—Florida Canyon Trail Guide, 1973-1976 2:5
Balboa Park—Japanese Garden, 1977-1978 2:6
Balboa Park—Natives, Cactus, etc. , 1970-1976 2:7
Balboa Park—Plants of the San Diego Zoo, 1975-1976 2:8
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum Activities, 1977-1982 3:1
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum–“Day in the Wildwood,” 1978 3:2
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum– Docent Training, 1968-1973 3:3
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum—“A Look at Native Plants,” undated 3:4
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum—Handouts, 1976-1980 3:5
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum—Nature Walks, 1967-1971 3:6
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum—Seminars, 1978 3:7
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum—Sierra Juarez Trip, 1974-1977 3:8
Balboa Park—San Diego Natural History Museum—Albert Valentien Paintings, 1974-1977 3:9
Balboa Park—Tree Walk, 1973 3:10
Biological Control of Insects, 1947-1981 3:11
Bird Plants, 1973-1976 3:12
Birds—Garden, 1973-1978 3:13
Birds—San Diego County, 1970-1978 3:14
Botany, 1951-1981 4:1
Botany for the Blind, 1972-1974 4:2
Cabrillo Nature Trails, 1974-1979 4:3
Cactus Garden, 1976 4:4
California Association of Park & Recreation Commissioners and Board Members (CAPRCBM), 1971-1972 4:5
California Herbaria by County, 1970-1978 4:6
California Native Plant Society, 1979 4:7
California Natural Areas Coordinating Council, 1959-1975 4:8
California Poppy, 1962-1974 4:9
CALTRANS, 1975-1979


A photo of Helen Chamlee.

Camp Pendleton, 1971-1973 4:11
Christmas Trees, c.1971 4:12
Christmas Week Park Walks, 1978 4:13
City/County Parks, undated 4:14
Condors, 1977 4:15
Conservation, 1954-1976 4:16
Cowles Mountain, 1980 4:17
Cuyamaca Mountains, 1975-1978 5:1
Department of Education—Community Education Resources, 1972-1974 5:2
Desert Ecology and Plants, 1974-1981 5:3
Dos Picos Park, 1977 5:4
Eating Flowers, 1968-1975 5:5
Ecology—Louise Howton, 1976-1978 5:6
Ethnobotany of Cupeño Indians, 1972 5:7
Ethnobotany of Pamo Valley, 1975 5:8
Eucalyptus, undated 5:9
Ferns, undated 5:10
Fire Resistant, 1962-1977 5:11
Flinn Springs County Park, 1973-1979 5:12
Fortuna Mountain, 1978 5:13
Garden Fossils, 1970-1971 6:1
Geology of San Diego, 1977 6:2
Glen Helen Regional Park (San Bernardino County), undated 6:3
Guayale and Jojoba Plants, 1972-1977 6:4
Idyllwild, 1961-1980 6:5
Insects, undated 6:6
Islands (Santa Cruz and Catalina), 1969-1977 6:7
Isomeris Arborea, undated 6:8
Joshua Tree, 1972-1979 6:9
Key to Common Shrubs of San Diego, 1971-1973 6:10
Laguna Mountain, 1976-1980 6:11
Landscape Design Study Course, 1964-1973 6:12
Lake Poway, 1978 6:13
Los Penasquitos Lagoon, 1970-1971 6:14
Marston Canyon, undated 6:15
Miscellaneous Articles and Brochures, 1969-1980 6:16
Morphology, 1969 6:17
Native Plants, 1973 6:18
Native Plants—Early Uses, 1969-1976 7:1
Native Plants—“Indian Uses,” 1969-1976 7:2
Natural History Subjects, 1963-1980 7:3
Nature Conservancy, 1974-1975 7:4
Nature Walks, c.1975 7:5
Old Town, 1977-1978 7:6
Open Space/Slope Restoration, 1977-1978 7:7
Otay, 1975-1978 7:8
Palomar Mountain, 1935-1978 7:9
Plant Protection Ordinance, undated 7:10
“Planting” Articles, 1945-1977 8:1
Plants and Gardens—Clippings and Articles, c.1977 8:2
Plants of Mitchell Caverns (San Bernardino County), 1972-1973 8:3
Plants of Salt Marshes in San Diego, undated 8:4
Poppy Park (Riverside), 1973 8:5
Presidio Park, 1977-1981 8:6
Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens (Claremont), 1947-c.1970 8:7
San Clemente Canyon, 1978 8:8
San Dieguito Regional Park, 1976-1981 8:9
Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary (Lakeside), 1978-1979 8:10
Soil, undated 8:11
Soils, North County—George Borst, 1968-1978 8:12
South Bay—Newspaper Clippings, 1971 8:13
Strybing Arboretum (San Francisco), 1974-1975 8:14
Teachers Guides, c.1971-1975 8:15
Tecolote Canyon, 1977-1979 8:16
Torreyana (Torrey Pines Docent Society), 1975-1981 8:17
Torrey Pines, 1959-1979 9:1
UCSD Extension, 1971 9:2
University of California, Berkeley, 1975 9:3
University of San Diego Nature Walk, 1979 9:4
USDA Soil Surveys: Oceanside, El Cajon, Capistrano Area, c.1933 9:5
Valley Center School Nature Study Center, Teacher’s Handbook and Field Guide, 1972 9:6
Vascular Plants of San Diego County, 1959 9:7
Wildflowers and Blossoms by County, 1978 9:8
William Heise Park (Laguna Mountains), 1977-1981 9:9

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