Travel Scholarship to Arizona
By Tanja P. Kramer
For my travel scholarship I visited Arizona for three weeks at the end of April to mid May in 1997. My main ambition was to learn about arid lands conservation and the plants of these lands, with regard to their special adaptations. I was interested in finding out how habitats can be preserved for both wild plants as well as the many unique crops of the region. Concerning the traditional Native American crops and wild plants they had used in the past, I was curious to find out to what scale these plants were still used and grown and knowledge about them preserved. As environmental education and awareness is an important part of environment conservation, I had also arranged to meet staff from the two botanical gardens’ education departments to learn more about their work and environment education programmes.
It was a great opportunity to look at all these different aspects while in Arizona and meet with many great people who are all specialists in their field. During the first week I visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, where I met both with members of the education department and garden staff. All showed much enthusiasm for their work. Spending time within the grounds I had the chance to get to know some of the desert plants exhibited in the collection. I especially liked the `Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail’ in the garden.
Many of the cacti, desert wild flowers and small desert trees were flowering and it was a unique experience. One evening I was lucky to be invited to take part on an ethnobotany walk, which was given to a group of local college students. The walk was conducted by Ruth Greenhouse (Educational Department) and Liz Slauson (Curator of Botany). Here I learned about some of the traditional uses of native plant species and how native people would harvest plant parts and produce certain products.
In Tucson I chose to camp in the beautiful Santa Catalina Mountain State Park. This experience brought me closer to the flora and fauna of the beautiful Sonoran Desert.
Wildlife and plants could be observed more closely being in such close proximity. The Saguaro National Monument, with its stands of up to 50 feet high saguaro cacti (Carnegia gigantea) was one of the most impressive encounters of the journey. Standing beside such a giant makes one feel incredibly small.
The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum has the most beautiful setting. It edges onto the west side of the Saguaro National Monument. This museum (botanical garden and zoo) teaches actively about the flora, fauna and geology of the Sonoran Desert. Visitors can learn more about native plants, see the animals of the region and find out about interactions of the biotic and a-biotic environment. The Museum has excellent education programmes with opportunities for all age groups to take part. Carol Cochran (Director of Education), whom I met on my first visit to the garden, gave me an insight into the various activities and programmes.
During a second day I met garden staff and learned new aspects of desert gardening. A special event was to meet with Gary P. Nabham (Director of Science and Ethnobiologist and Botanist). He has studied Native American Ethnobotany and agriculture extensively and written numerous articles and several books about these subjects. He is also working closely with Native Americans in order to preserve and conserve traditional plants, in addition to knowledge regarding their cultivation, uses and importance. He is also one of the co-founders of an organisation named Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S), which is involved in similar work to the one forementioned. I not only visited NS/S, but met with a second co-founder, Dr. Barney B. Burns. I was shown around the seedbank and learned about a project called Memory Data-Base by Suzanne Nelson (Conservation & Collections Director; Seedbank Curator of NS/S).
One cannot visit Tucson without seeing the University of Arizona. An enormous complex of buildings surrounded by palms with views onto the city itself. The campus is filled with students and a very lively place. I met with Professor Steven Smith from the College of Agriculture, who works on plant genetic resources and spoke with him about his view on Native American Agriculture. Later I made use of the excellent library, which anybody is free to use. I had the fortuitous chance to meet with Daniela Soleri who also works in the College of Agriculture, in the Arid Lands Resource Science Program. She is currently studying the criteria that Native American farmers in an area of Mexico are using to select cobs of corn from certain parent plants to be used for seed-stock.
I spent two days exploring the mighty Grand Canyon and looking at the vegetation there, which has to cope with all sorts of reverse growing conditions. It’s amazing that they still do so well and exist in such an extreme environment. Other areas I went to see on my tour included the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservation, the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.
I learned many new aspects about plants and had a unique time in Arizona. All the people I met were so friendly and helpful and really supported me to achieve my aims. I feel the tour was of great benefit to me and truly broadened my horizons.