text by Teresa Esquivel photos courtesy of Desert Botanical Garden & Phoenix Zoo
In the circle of life, it doesn’t take much to set things spinning off course, so the conservation of habitats and the plants and animals that live within them is important. And we, as humans, have the capacity to be stewards for such action. Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden are among the organizations spearheading conservation efforts locally. Here we take a closer look at their programs.
Arizona Center For Nature Conservation
Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden also has a long history of conservation. “We were green before green was cool,” says Ken Schutz, executive director. “We were founded as a conservation garden devoted to Sonoran Desert plants. That’s very different from most gardens, which were founded as collections of exotic plants from around the world, not plants you can find in your backyard. And today, 75 years later, we’re still true to that mission.”
Some of the earliest conservation efforts revolved around rescuing plants, including organ pipe cactus that were going to be destroyed to make room for mining in an area near Ajo, Arizona. They were hauled back to Phoenix and planted in the Garden where they still stand today, and in even greater number. Currently, the Garden acts as custodian for 52 different kinds of rare desert plants, which are cultivated in a greenhouse on the property.
“We have a seed bank where we house our seed collections of rare, threatened and endangered plants. There are over 4,000 collections,”says Kimberlie McCue, Ph.D., program director, Conservation of Threatened Species and Habitats and Assistant Director of Research, Conservation and Collections. “These are like the insurance policy. These plants are rare out in the wild, and the more rare something is, the more susceptible it is to a catastrophe wiping it out. By having the seeds here, if a population or even a portion of a population suffers a catastrophe, whether it’s a fire or land gets sold for development, we still have the genetic material from that place, and we can grow it out and we can maintain it.”
“I like to say: If you like living, thank a plant,” says McCue. “We are wholly dependent on plants. We use them for medicine, clothing, food, oxygen, shelter, building materials and we even use them to court our mates. And if one plant goes extinct there absolutely can be a domino effect.”