Desert Botanical Garden is participating in Endangered Species Day to raise awareness and share the importance of protecting endangered species. Arizona is home to more than 4,000 plant species. Twenty-one of these species are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Garden’s Research, Conservation and Collections staff is making important contributions to plant conservation locally and globally. 

Local Conservation Projects:

Arizona Hedgehog Cactus, Echinocereus arizonicus subsp arizonicus - a dark green, multi-stemmed plant that produces brilliant red flowers from late April to mid-May. The plant is found in only one highly localized area in central Arizona.

  • Became an endangered species in 1979 and was among the first plants listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act in Arizona.  
  • With partial support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) the Garden’s Research staff is conducting completed a multiyear genetic study of the species populations in Arizona to determine the genetic diversity of the species and its relationship to other hedgehog cacti. To date, DNA has been collected and analyzed from nearly 400 plants and 50 locations. 
  • The Garden recently hosted a seminar for government agencies and research institutions to share their findings and discuss the future of the Arizona Hedgehog cactus.
  • The results of the genetic study will be used in the recovery plan for this species being developed by USFWS.

“What I am really interested in doing for the Arizona Hedgehog cactus is to increase the public’s involvement in preserving this rare plant. Getting citizen scientists involved to help locate plants and track flowers, pollinators and fruit production is a great first step,” says Shannon Fehlberg, Ph.D., conservation biologist. “A long-term vision is to bring the plant into production and allow individuals to purchase these plants and grow them at their own homes and that alone might help to preserve this species into longevity.”

Huachuca Water Umbel, Lilaeopsis schaffneriana var. recurva - an herbaceous and semi-aquatic plant with bright green leaves that produces tiny white flowers in the summer months. The plant grows in the Arizona wetlands in the southeastern portion of the state.

  • Listed as an endangered species in 1997 and the wetlands in which it grows were listed as critical habitat in 1999.
  • The Garden’s Research staff maintains a living collection of this species and provided more than 60 plants for reintroduction to three sites at Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona.
  • A genetic diversity study was completed to provide a greater understanding of the importance of clonal growth and population connectivity in this species.  
  • The results of the genetic study were used to develop a recovery plan for the Huachuca water umbel.

Global Conservation Projects:

Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group

  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has ranked the cactus family as the fifth most threatened group of living things in the world. The number one threat to this plant group is illegal collecting of plants from the wild.
  • In November 2015, Desert Botanical Garden became the host institute for the IUCN Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group (CSSG). A designation that positions the Garden to lead the world efforts of cactus conservation.
  • The top priority of CSSG is to develop a strategy for conserving cactus globally. The Garden will host a workshop at the end of May 2017 that will bring together IUCN experts and Garden research and conservation staff to begin work on this strategy.

“The Garden has been working to conserve cactus and other desert plants since its founding. An early rescue operation in 1940 saved multiple organ pipe cactus form a mining operation and these plants continue to thrive at the Garden. And the work has never stopped. The state of the cactus family and the distinction of the Garden as host to the CSSG has elevated the critical nature of what we do. It is a privilege to be part of a global community working toward the conservation and preservation of the entire diversity of life on the planet,” says Dr. Kimberlie McCue, director of research, conservation and collections. 

The Garden was founded in 1939 by group of residents who were concerned about the preservation of the desert they dearly loved. The Garden was created to protect the natural flora of Arizona and the research and conservation of rare and endangered plants has been an important part of the mission ever since. Help the Garden continue to Save The Cactus by becoming a Cactomaniac