Celebrating 85 Years of the Garden: Research and Conservation Local to Global | Desert Botanical Garden


For 85 years, Desert Botanical Garden has served as a global leader in research and conservation of desert plants and their habitats. Today, 26 Garden research and conservation staff collaborate with academic, research, and conservation groups across nine countries and four continents. The work has led to the discovery of new plant species, conservation of threatened and endangered species, and identification of emerging threats to desert habitats including climate change, invasive species, and poaching.

The Garden’s Research and Conservation team has decades of experience and passion for the Garden’s mission to advance research, conservation and education of desert plants and habitats of the world.

Here are a few recent examples of this work—

A1) George Lindsay_Blog

Photo courtesy of Photo by Eirini Pajak. 

Rescuing an Endemic Species
Arizona Hedgehog Project

In 2018, Garden researchers worked with a team from the Arizona Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Tonto National Forest to rescue dozens of endangered Arizona hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus arizonicus) along the path of a newly constructed bridge at Pinto Creek near Superior, Arizona. 

While the bridge was under construction, the salvaged plants were rehabilitated at the Garden to allow them to recover. Once the bridge was completed, those plants were reintroduced back into the wild. 

In March 2022, 65 Arizona hedgehog cactus were transplanted back into their native habitat, where they will resume their role as an integral part of the ecosystem.

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Local to Global_0005_20230523_114734

Protecting Threatened Species
Conserving and Augmenting Sclerocactus in the Southwest

In 2022, Garden researchers received a five-year grant from BLM New Mexico to collect, map and propagate two species of threatened cactus, Sclerocactus mesae-verdae and Sclerocactus cloverae. The project will allow Garden researchers to produce hundreds of plants to be used to help conserve these two rare species.

Green Medicine

Mexico Expeditions
Feingold Expedition 2019 Central Mexico

As part of the Garden’s Strategic Plan, researchers have added new species of cactus and agave to the Living Collections. That involved a collecting expedition through the states of Guanajuato, Queretaro and Michoacan, Mexico. The research trip was a collaboration with staff from Instituto de Biologia and the Botanical Garden UNAM in Mexico City.

Cactus Leather Bags

Feingold expedition 2021 Durango, Mexico

In August of 2021, five Garden botanists joined staff from Herbarium CIIDIR in Durango for a 20 day joint-collecting expedition. The team visited the central, eastern and northern municipalities of the state of Durango and collected more than 200 specimens of Cactaceae and Agavaceae in areas with desert scrub, tropical deciduous forest and pine forest.


2023 Feingold Expedition San Luis Potosi, Mexico

The latest trip in August 2023 involved a collaboration with botanists from the Herbarium SLPM and the The Izotal Botanical Garden in the city of San Luis Potosi. The team was able to collect more than 300 specimens of mostly Cactaceae and Agavaceae species in a period of 20 days of fieldwork and processing specimens. A set of more than 200 duplicate specimens were deposited in the herbarium at the local university. Garden staff hopes to continue these collaborative-collection trips with the San Luis Potosi botanists in the near future.

Local to Global_0001_PR Consolea moniliformis Rare RPM

Feingold Expedition Puerto Rico

In May 2023, four Garden researchers traveled to Puerto Rico, met with researchers from Universidad Nacional de Puerto Rico and spent 10 days collecting cactus and agaves in the western portion of the island. Garden staff prepared herbarium specimens with a set shipped to the Garden and a duplicate set deposited at the herbarium in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Local to Global_0000_Examining soil-Laingsburg(TH)

South Africa and Namibia

The Succulent Karoo of western South Africa and southwestern Namibia has a richer succulent flora than any other arid region of the world. Since 2012, Dr. Joe McAuliffe has collaborated with researchers from South Africa and Germany to study ways in which termites influence soils and vegetation throughout this region. Colonies of the southern harvester termite occupy the same sites for centuries and even thousands of years, locally enriching the soil, leading to greater plant productivity, and greater plant and animal diversity. The termites also accumulate calcium contained in the plant foods they collect and transport to their central mounds. Within the soil of the mounds, the calcium in those plant materials combines with carbon in carbon dioxide, forming calcium carbonate, a hard, cement-like material. This process is a natural form of carbon sequestration. Dr. McAuliffe is a member of an international research team investigating this process. The work is being conducted by a team of eight researchers from four South African universities, two U.S. universities and the Garden, and is jointly funded by the U.S.A. National Science Foundation and the S. Africa National Research foundation.

Thanks to Bert and Betty Feingold, generous donors and Garden members since 1983, the Garden’s research conservation and collections staff were able to make three expeditions in 2023 to the Arizona Strip, San Luis Potosi, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

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