Desert Botanical Garden has a volunteer program full of dedicated individuals. Last year, nearly 800 volunteers committed 66,000 hours to the Garden. One of reasons for the success of the program is volunteers are involved in every aspect of the Garden. From strategic planning to research and tending to plants to leading tours, volunteers are responsible for keeping the Garden running. To show gratitude, the Garden is consistently in search of new and exciting ways to recognize volunteers.

“It is important to acknowledge volunteers in unique ways and ways that have significance. Our volunteers know everything about the Garden and giving them the opportunity to name a plant seemed like the perfect way to recognize their hard work and commitment,” says Nancy White, Volunteer Services Program Director.Observing the Agave

Two years ago, Wendy Hodgson, Senior Research Botanist and Herbarium Curator, and Andrew Salywon, Associate Research Botanist and Herbarium Curator, were on a collections trip in the Sierra Ancha Mountains foothills, when they came across an agave they did not recognize. It was determined to be a pre-Columbian domesticate, a plant whose characters were selected for, grown out, and farmed many centuries ago by pre-Columbian farmers. After much research, it appeared to be a new species of agave that had never been documented before.

Wendy HodgsonIn her career, Hodgson has collected and named eight new species. In 2015, a fleabane daisy she collected was named Erigeron hodgsoniae, in her honor. She was more than willing to give the naming opportunity of this new plant to volunteers.

“I am a believer that if you have the opportunity to teach people, you should take it. It’s fun to see volunteers in the scientific process and it is an honor for us to let them name this plant. Volunteers contribute so much to what we do, they deserve this opportunity,” says Hodgson. 

At a volunteer recognition event in April, the “Name Game” was presented to volunteers. With a description of the plant and guidelines in place, volunteers were asked to submit potential plant names over the following months. All 61 submitted names were given to Hodgson and Salywon to review. 

“I wanted to pick the name that really signifies the plant. When you name a plant you want the name to be descriptive so it paints a picture. Plants are commonly named after certain characteristics, the area where it was found and people,” explains Hodgson.

After much thought and deliberation, Hodgson and Salywon declared a three-way tie. They chose Agave saladoense, submitted by Clif Sawyer, Helen Bootsma and John Soper as the name for the new species of agave. This name was selected because the Salado people lived in this area and more than likely farmed this agave.