Greenhouse and Sonoran Plant Garden

Since the inception of the Desert Laboratory, researchers have taken a keen interest in growing plant specimens of special interest. In fact, the Lab’s 1906 greenhouse in the first greenhouse in Tucson, which was recently rehabilitated and is once again thriving with life. Our living collection represents the unique bio-cultural diversity of the Sonoran Desert region and features the tropical affinity of the Sonoran Desert flora as well as species from continents with similar habitats that harbor plants that look nearly identical to our native species but are unrelated (convergent evolution).


The Lab maintains three primary living collections, (1) the Desert Laboratory Greenhouse, (2) the Sonoran Plant Garden, (3) The Tumamoc Resilience Garden Shade house.

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Desert Laboratory greenhouse ca. 1910.


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Desert Laboratory greenhouse interior ca. 1915.

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The Desert Laboratory greenhouse today.


Some plants bear the name of the founding scientists of the lab, or close colleagues and friends:

- Agave felgeri (Felger’s Agave, from the costal desert near San Carlos, Sonora): Named for eminent botanist of the Sonoran Desert, Richard Felger.

- Agave shreveii (Shreve’s Agave, from the northern Sierra MAdre): Named after previous Lab researcher and Director Forrest Shreve who mapped and established our concept of the Sonoran Desert region.

- Bursera exequielii (Exequiel’s Bursera, endemic to Punta Arena and Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur): Named after ecologist and conservationist Exequiel Ezcurra, a leader in the region’s conservation and ecological understanding.

- Echinocereus gentryi (Gentry’s Hedgehog Cactus, found in the Sierra Madre near Alamos, Sonora): Named for pioneering botanist of tropical Sonora, Howard Gentry

- Fouquieria shreveii (Shreve’s Ocotillo, only found in the Chihuahuan Desert in the Bolson de Mapimi): Named after the first to map the Sonoran Desert region, Forrest Shreve

- Tumamoca macdougallii (Tumamoc Globe Berry, found through much of the mainland Sonoran Desert, though consistently rare): Named after Tumamoc Hill and founding director Daniel T. MacDougall

Under the south awnings of the main building are plants in large pots

- Plumeria rubra (Cascalosúchil, Frangipani, Plumeria)

- Agave jaiboli (Highball Agave)

- Manihot cf. caudata (Giant Blue-leaved Manioc)

- Ficus pertusa (Nacapule, Sonoran Strangler Fig)

- Bursera microphylla (Aromatic Elephant Tree, Torote)

- Jatropha cinerea (Ashy Limberbush, Sangrengado)

- Pachycormus discolor (Baja Elephant Tree)

- Dioon sonorense (Sonoran Cycad, Palma de la Vírgen, Peine)

- Bursera penicillata (Torote, Palo Santo [South America])

- Hechtia montana (pineapple relative)

- Ficus palmeri (Baja Rock Fig)

In the ground surrounding the patio

- Stenocereus thurberi (Organpipe, Pitahaya dulce): Planted in the early years of the lab before 1914, now a towering specimen.

- Lophocereus schottii (Sina): Also planted in the early years of the lab.

- Guaiacum coulteri (Guayacán, Hollywood): Likely planted by a lab member in the 60s/70s. A tropical member of the creosote family.

- Fouquieria burragei (Baja Ocotillo)

- Fouquieria columnaris (Boojum, Cirio)

- Brongniartia alamosana (Mexican Pea Tree, Palo Piojo)

- Ceiba aesculifolia (Kapok tree)

- Pachycereus palmeri (Cardón, Sahueso)

Examples of specimens in the greenhouse

- Bursera grandifolia 

- Cissus verticillata 

- Pereskiopsis porteri (Leafy Cactus)

- Xanthosoma hoffmannii (Aroid)

- Selenicereus vagans (tropical night-blooming cactus)

- Randia mollifolia (Sapuchi de monte, coffee family)

- Bletia purpurea (terrestrial orchid)

- Encylia adenocarpa (fragrant orchid)

- Tillandsia sp. 

- Psidium sartorianum (wild relative of guayaba, arrellán)

- Celtis iguanea (iguana berry)

- Vitex mollis (uvalama)

- Montanoa tomentosa rosei (tree daisy, batayaqui)

- Lippia umbellata (tree lemon balm)

- Sideroxylon tempicense (tempisque)

- Euphorbia misera

- Agave aktities

- Ipomoea ancisa (bush morning glory)

- Dorstenia drakena (primitive fig, ground fig, baiburilla)

- Cyrtocarpa edulis (ciruela)