Gardening Articles: Health :: Garden Travel

Desert Treasures (page 2 of 3)

by Michael MacCaskey

Nestled between natural stones is the Avra Valley overlook.

Walking the trails
The museum's 2 miles of trails let you make your own discoveries. So much of the garden is open to wild birds and animals, you never know what you will see, but January and February are good months to look for phainopeplas -- glossy-black tropical birds that roost in mesquite trees this time of year.

A scenic overlook (photo at left), just to the right of the museum entrance, offers a 60-mile view over the Avra Valley west toward the Tohono'odham Indian Reservation and south beyond the Mexican border. Saguaro cacti are the view's most prominent feature.

Beyond the walk-in aviary, the Riparian Corridor is a cool alternative to the open desert in most of the park. Lush growth, including cottonwoods, and a stream harbor river otters and beaver.

Other areas focus on additional desert habitats, including mountain woodland, desert grassland, cactus, desert plant, and wildcat. Of particular interest are the new pollination gardens.

A monarch butterfly visits a lantana flower in the pollination garden.

Flower power to the pollinators
Just to the left of the entrance, seven Pollination Gardens, dedicated less than a year ago, were designed to attract and support specific migratory pollinators: bats, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, milkweed, moths and yucca moths. I particularly enjoyed the bee garden, because it tells about the solitary and other lesser-known bees, and how to encourage them to visit your own garden.

In the garden, a "bee condo" is perfect for attracting native leaf-cutting and mason bees. It's just a heavy post drilled with 1/8- to 5/16-inch holes and protected from sun and rain -- an idea worth bringing home.

About 225 species of flowering plants attract various migratory pollinators. Last year, these gardens served as the backdrop when biologists from Mexico and the United States gathered to discuss and initiate studies of the migratory corridor the two countries share.

According to Gary Nabhan, the museum's director of conservation and science, "We can thank a pollinator for every third bite of food we eat." Considering our dependence on pollinators, and the fact that, according to Nabhan, "there are fewer domestic honeybees in North America than at any other moment in our lifetimes," the need to learn more is well founded.

Paying for pollination
Flowers use color, fragrance, pattern, and shape to attract bees, birds, and other pollinators. But these creatures don't care about plant reproduction--they want a meal. Each blossom offers just enough nectar and pollen to make it worth visiting, so the hungry pollinators must hurry from flower to flower in order to get enough to eat, a process that ensures plenty of pollen gets passed around. In effect, plants are using their nectar and pollen to pay for pollination.

Funding for both the pollination gardens and a long-term study of migratory pollinators -- which also include white-winged doves, lesser long-nosed bats, rufous hummingbirds, and monarch butterflie s-- comes from the Turner Foundation and Turner Endangered Species Fund. Participating institutions include the Universities of Arizona and Miami, and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

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