One day in 2014, Ali Walker was strolling through her favorite shops in the Mission and noticed a flier recruiting Conservatory volunteers posted at Paxton Gate. As a fan of the Conservatory's tropical collections, Ali knew this was something she wanted to try.
Growing up on Long Island, Ali didn't encounter banana or papaya trees but her memory is filled with stories from her mother's childhood in Puerto Rico and searching for the perfect banana leaf for her delicious
Heading west in 2001 to study biology at Stanford, Ali quickly called California home. After working in labs at Stanford and
UCSF, she returned to school to study one of her childhood passions: botanical illustration.
Ali can now be found volunteering as a "Jungle Guide" leading 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students on explorations of the Conservatory. Along the way, Ali offers students a peek into giant carnivorous pitcher plants, teaches them to measure humidity, and shares the amazing adaptations techniques that plants have developed to survive.
When asked which things are most important to her volunteering she replied, "plants and people" -- and engaging kids with plants tops the list. "When I show a cotton boll growing on a plant and explain this is where those cotton balls in bags at the drug store get their start, it sparks their curiosity."
Ali also teaches a botanical illustration class, which has added to the roster of monthly lectures and field trips offered exclusively to our volunteers. Working from home on commissioned pieces is often lonely. Getting out of the house and interacting with people around a subject she loves brings joy and balance to her life.
Join Ali and a host of other great people as a Conservatory volunteer!
Upcoming Docent Training Program
This summer, the Conservatory will hold a comprehensive training program to prepare new volunteers to lead tours for adults or children. Jungle Guides introduce elementary school students to the wonders of the rainforest. Docents educate adult visitors about the fascinating collection of tropical plants and the stunning historic greenhouse. The Conservatory welcomes adult volunteers of all experience levels to join the training program. Learn more.