I first met Loran about 20 years ago when I was just getting into the "weird plant" collecting part of my life. I had started with bamboo, graduated onto palms and then discovered cycads. I had already heard of Mr. Whitelock who was selling cycads under the name Cycad Gardens in Los Angeles. He was very kind on the phone and invited me to come by his place to look at what he had. I had no idea what to expect, but I had been to a number of cycad enthusiasts' gardens and was very excited to meet one of the more famous cycad growers around. The cycad world is a relatively small one compared to what you might find in other plant groups so everyone in the cycad world knew who Loran was. He supposedly had a nice collection, but I had heard his prices were relatively high and that he was difficult to bargain with. But when I met him, he did not seem like the "legend" type at all. He was extremely nice, relatively quiet, and at the time was living with his wife, Eva, and his dog (can't recall its name) on a hill in Eagle Rock, California. The property was huge, relative to mine at least, and overlooked a good portion of the town. It was mostly hillside and fairly steep, with long winding trails through a densely planted garden of mostly cycads, but a good number of palms, ferns, succulents and other interesting plants. His house was atop the property and looked out over much of Eagle rock, as well as all his property, plants and his tenants buildings. Turns out he built it and did all the landscaping himself (at least all the design, but a lot of the work, too). The rental properties surrounding his were also amazingly landscaped with all sorts of extremely rare plants as well.
view of long driveway up to the Whitelock home, adorned with dozens of mature staghorn ferns (Platyceriums), Rhipsalis cacti, palms, cycads, agaves, tillandsias and other odds and ends (left and center); right is one view of his cycad garden from the porch
more views of the lush Whitelock botanical garden- left shot shows a massive Aloe barberae tree, over 15' in diameter
Loran's agave garden, one of the most recent additions to his massive plant collection
a few of Loran's exceptional non-cycad plants: Agave victoriae-reginae white form (exceptionally large and perfect plant)- left; blooming Tillandsia sp. (center) and a huge, perfect Platycerium superbum with Loran (right)
A few of the amazing palms in Loran's collection: Chamaedorea amabilis (not only a rare palm, but this probably the best looking specimen of this species I have seen in California) left, a huge, old Sabal bermudana - very likely the largest example of this species in California; (center) and Reinhardtia gracilis (left)- one of the harder tropical palms to grow in California (again nearly perfect) - right
more shots of this amazing garden, his porch and steps up to porch
The more time I spent with Loran, the more I realized he knew a lot about just about everything I was interested in. His personal collection ranged from animals (had an extensive history of collecting snakes, birds, lizards etc. though the last few years he only had a few Gila Monsters), many palms including a lot of Central American species he collected, including one he discovered himself. Dr.Hodel named the palm after him: Chamaedorea whitelockii, thousands of cycads (at least 90% of all the known 300+ species at the time including two species name after him), Euphorbias, Staghorn Ferns (Platyceriums), anthuriums (including another plant named after him), fossils, agaves and aloes (his Agave collection is one of the nicest I have seen), various other succulents, orchids, Tillandsias (aka air plants), Rhipsalis (tropical epiphytic cacti) and other unusual and weird plants. Loran also was a non-plant collector and art lover. His house was tastefully but extensively decorated with Tiffany Lamps, Foo Dogs, tapestries, sculptures, impressive and colorful framed beetle and butterfly collections and a lot of other works of art. There were even sculptures around the yard. Once he discovered I was an artist, he asked me to do some art work for him. Eventually I ended up being the illustrator for his well-known text on cycads, which is sadly already out of print.
Loran carrying his book in the garden (left); autographing someone's book on the opening page with my drawing on it (center); Loran in his garden with a palm society shirt on (right)
Ceratozamia whitelockiana (left) in Loran's yard; Chamaedorea whitelockiana ( center) in Loran's yard; Anthurium 'whitelockii' right (officially changed to Anthurium faustomirandae, sadly)
Encephalartos whitelockii shots, taken in Loran's garden (left and center) and in my own garden (right)
just a fraction of Loran's beetle collection... wonder where these will end up...
just a bit of Loran's wonderul Foo Dog collection
Hope his beloved pet Gila Monster has a new good home
Every time I visited Loran's place he would act as if he was so grateful to see me, as if he never had visitors at all (which I know for fact was not the case by a long shot). He definitely had a way of making one feel special. He would spend as many hours with me as needed until we got tired walking all over his property. His patience was amazing as I would take hundreds upon hundreds of photos every time I visited, and still I did not get a photo of at least half his plants. At times he would entertain multiple guests and never ever seemed out of sorts, was always welcoming and polite and answered the same question over and over again for the thousandth time without giving the person a hint it was the thousandth time. He was always full of sage advice and willing to give all the advice needed. Occasionally I would get a glimpse into one of his 'secret greenhouses', which probably really weren't secret at all, but which I rarely had the gall to ask to see inside (all sorts of incredibly rare stuff in there... and also packed from end to end, making it not only labor intensive to get around, but a bit dangerous as well, as many cycads have sharp teeth). But no matter who came over when, while Eva was there, he always took a lunch that she prepared for him (she was very protective of Loran), giving him a needed break and nutrition. During lunches, I would wander about aimlessly among plants. His collection included many plants that would go for many thousands of dollars each (I have no idea what his collection was worth, but a fortune, I can guarantee... some plants worth at least $20,000 each, and possibly a few 2 to 4 times that). He never seemed overly concerned about theft, though he had lost more than a plant or two over the years (many super rare cycads were planted right along the roadside). He did ask me about how pets were microchipped as he had hoped to do the same to all his costly plants, but sadly pet microchips were not going to be very helpful. The Whitelock plant collection includes some of the very rarest plants in the world, and many that are extinct, or nearly so, in the wild. It is truly priceless.
just a very few of his many hundreds of rare and impressive cycad specimen species : Encephalartos longifolius (left); Encephalartos latifrons (center) and Encephalartos middleburgensis (in full cone) right
some more super rare Cycads in Loran's collection: Ceratozamia hondurensis (left); Encephalartos woodii (one of a half dozen he had of this super rare plant, this one with about 6' of trunk) center; Encephalartos brevifoliatus (right)- one of the few in the US I suspect
And a few more nice cycads: Encephalartos princeps (not a rare plant, but a beautiful one)- right; Macrozamia occidua (not a beautiful plant, but a rare one)- center; Encephalartos laurentianus female cones (both rare and beautiful)... never seen a coning individual in California, though others might exists - right
and some more rarities: variegated Cycas revoluta (aka Sago Palm) left; variegated Dioon spinulosum (middle) and just too many more cycads to even scratch the surface (right)
Since his death, his entire collection is being inventoried, ready for disbursement. All has been earmarked already from what I understand, with the vast majority going to the Huntington Gardens collection. What a boon! At least a one of kind collection such as his has a good home. No much depresses a plant collector more than knowing when he or she dies, little effort will be made by others to keep up the garden, and in most cases, all plants will be either sold cheaply, tossed out or bulldozed (I have lost two gardens so I know what it is like). Thankfully Loran was way too smart for that fate and planned far ahead... but of course few individuals on the planet have the sort of plants he had in is collection, so it makes perfect sense all the plant are going to be taken care of. I think that is one of the things that makes me happiest about my memories of Loran. Sadly all his wonderful landscaping will be lost, but I am sure he wouldn't have it any other way.
Loran having to avoid a cycad injury (are sharp plants) while navigating one the many trails in his yard (left); Catalya orchid growing in a massive cycad trunk (center); another orchid growing in a volcanic rock (right)... I can barely grow orchids in my greenhouse and he had them all over his yard attached to everything - remarkable use of space... and sad to know it will all be gone soon
For someone who was so revered, and so influential in various fields of botany and plant collections, he was so incredibly approachable and friendly, it was hard to get my head around Loran's fame, and his personable personality and extreme deferential nature. He made friends easily and many of his friends became extremely loyal. For those who don't know the cycad world, and particularly the 'business of cycads', it is rife with name calling, rude behavior, grudges, jealousy, legal problems, theft, name calling etc., and Loran, because of his prominence in his field, could not help become involved in some of that... but you would never know it by meeting him. Somehow it all seemed to have washed off of him, at least from what I could tell. I am sure he had his enemies in the cycad world, but I doubt he did much to cause that. Loran was a gentleman above all else, and a person who could truly be admired not only for what he knew, accomplished and advised, but for just who he was as a human being. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to have called him a friend. I will miss him very much.
Loran cruising around his wonderfully kept yard with his ever present cup of coffee (left); Loran showing me a precious bit of history- a rare cycad fossil... now Loran is a part of history himself