garden and desert get welcome relief
as rain slackens thirst; Phoenix area will blossom
By Michael Abrams
story on the Grand
Phoenix, Arizona - Some
people in this vast desert metroplex of Phoenix
were excited early this year, but not about the million visitors and
the commercial boost from the Super Bowl.
By the time we got to Phoenix it was raining.
It's the simple fact that it rained in late January. Rain, glorious
rain. People dusted off their umbrellas and waded through a downpour
that drenched the streets of Phoenix, made gullies in the parched
Sonoran desert and fed the saguaro
cactus. That's the cactus with the upraised, prayerful arms.
desert, of which Phoenix takes a small piece, reaches from
California to western Arizona and down into the baja and Mexico. There
is nothing in Florida that resembles this desert, where rainfall
is less than 10 inches a year and daytime summer temperatures soar
beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
|It's a land of a million
rattlesnakes, gila monsters, arroyos, rocky chocolate hills, scruffy
vegetation, the setting sun tinting the bluffs pink and orange,
the freshly snow-clad mountains as a backdrop.
is excited about the Super Bowl but we're thrilled that it
rained last weekend.'
–John Sallot, Desert
"We've had three or four good rains since December," says John Sallot,
who finds ways to draw about 320,000 visitors a year to the Desert
Botanical Garden, a jewel in the conservation movement
Bee probes red fairy
duster plant at botanical garden
|"Everyone is excited about
the Super Bowl but we're thrilled that it
rained last weekend," says the marketing manager. The desert, of
which Phoenix takes a small piece, reaches from
California to western Arizona and down into the baja and Mexico.
Most people have read
about the drought which has ravaged nature in this part of the world.
But the plants of the desert have survived.
Busloads of school kids chug to the Garden which offers a
curriculum that fits perfectly into state-mandated course
requirements. The kids learn about the value of preserving the land,
the relationship between plants and animals, some basics.
The desert is a lesson in economy, in clinging to less, a
for what could happen to the world. Native Americans knew where
find water to survive.
It's not as easy as it looks to get
of a cactus, says Don Brickley, a former industrial engineer, now 81,
who is a veteran docent there and one of 500 volunteers. It would
a lot of cutting and a lot of squeezing - you don't do it like John
Wayne did in the movies – cut and sip.
Don Brickley holds woody trunk
of the saguaro cactus
|Brickley says the
which when small looks to one visitor
like a blueberry bush, leaves a ring of growth of new plants and one
particular ring of these plants in California has been determined to be
11,000 years old. Native Americans brewed a medicinal drink from the
leaves of this plant.
Those who might order a margarita at a swumpy bar like Sugar Daddy's
(author's term for "southwestern upwardly mobile people like you") with
searchlights blazing, should know this drink comes from the agave whose
Indians found intoxicating and the Mexicans distilled into tequila.
The garden has 169 rare and endangered species, some from deserts
in other countries. Its herbarium has 51,000 specimens.
Experts have called the Sonoran desert the most biodiverse region on
earth for plants and animals says Sallot. The plants and animals
Some of the trees have green bark, for instance, where
chlorophyll in the bark takes over in producing food when the leaves
are gone. Small leaves, green bark are adaptations toward living in the
How many people know that the cactus has a woody inside and is used by
woodpeckers to make nests? Then other birds come, cushion the
with grass or twigs, and use them again.
The garden was founded in 1939 by a group of people alarmed at the
rapid development of the desert – not only homes but cotton fields and
orange groves, said Mallot. At the time only 50,000 people lived in
Phoenix. Now it is the 13th largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in
the country with 4 million people.
Flowers of aloe brighten
|Visitors need to open two
separate maps to find streets in Phoenix.
Development will not cease as newcomers retire here from the the
Midwest and northeast, this land where snow is rare and the weather is
"The goal of the founders of the garden was to set aside a piece of the
desert for future generations," said Sallot.
The garden has been
fortunate to have generous benefactors.
A $17 million campaign in the 90s resulted in a research and education
complex. A new campaign of $16.3 million will result in renovated
exhibits such as a cactus and succulent gallery.
Audio tours will be
offered. The visits of 10,000 students a year will be free of
to add to the 40,000 students who already come.
Emu-bush is native to
The garden boasts a 400 seat reception hall and gallery,
and indoor and
outdoor classroom space. It has five thematic trails including one that
covers topics like water and energy conservation.
Research scientists at the gardens have benefited Florida.
Fairchild Garden in Miami sent cuttings of rare and endangered plants
before some recent hurricanes in the 1990s. The salt water intrusion
from hurricanes killed the plants in South Florida, and Fairchild was
able to reproduce the plants with what had been saved in Phoenix.
With the recent rains in the area, says Sallot, the hills will be
filled with wildflowers in April.