Martha Ames Burgess

Research Associate, Adjunct Professor Tohono O'odham Community College
(520) 621-6945

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My professional career has involved teaching others about traditional desert ethnobotany and nutrition, the desert environment— its plants, landscapes, animal relationships—and cultural ways people have lived traditionally and sustainably in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. 

I was mentored by Tohono O'odham elders in traditional wild-harvesting and cultivation of desert foods and medicines.  Following the model I was given, I teach as an adjunct professor at Tohono O’odham Community College courses related to Tohono O’odham ethnobotany.  In addition I teach seasonal classes and workshops in wild-food harvesting, gastronomy, and cookery for organizations such as Presidio Museum Tucson, Mission Garden, NativeSeeds/SEARCH, and Pima County Parks and Recreation. 

For the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I founded, coordinated and guided the members’ study tour program consisting of natural history hikes, Native foods workshops, and expeditions throughout Arizona, Sonora, Baja California, and the Sea of Cortez.  Later, I served as Education Director for NativeSeedsSEARCH, running the Diabetes Outreach Program to O’odham schools, and founded outreach events such as La Fiesta de los Chiles and la Fiesta de San Juan to create public awareness of genetic diversity in our local foods.

With my business Flor de Mayo, I provide access to traditional foods, along with nutritional and horticultural information.  For the past eight years I have volunteered as designer and consultant for time-period gardens at Friends of Tucson's Birthplace Mission Garden. With an ability to express natural sciences in lay terms, I have contributed to several publications such as Edible Baja Arizona, Desert Plants, AZNPS The Plant Press, and ASDM sonorensis.  

As climate changes and water becomes ever more limiting, my vision is for the Sonoran Desert's native plants to again become sustainable participants in regional food security. 



Burgess, Martha Ames, “Interpreting Ethnobotany at Mission Garden,” The Plant Press winter 2015 (Tucson: Arizona Native Plant Society).

______,”Reseeding Lost Diversity in Food Crops” sonorensis Vol.36,No.1 winter 2016 (Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum), 5–7.

______,”The Bountiful Bean Tree” sonorensis Vol.36, No.1, winter 2016 (Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 8.

______, “Significance of Wild-Plant Nutrition for Tohono O’odham Health” presented at Seeds of Native Health, Native American Nutrition Conference Proceedings, Shakopee Sioux Nation, Minnesota, October 2018.

Nabhan, G.P., M.A. Burgess, and Laurie Monti, “Linking Human and Environmental Health through Desert Foods” sonorensis Vol.29, No.1, winter 2009 (Tucson:  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum)

Nabhan, G.P and M.A. Burgess, Eds. Mesquite Manifesto, April 2019 (Tucson:  UA Desert Lab and Borderlands Restoration)