I grew up in the suburbs of Tucson, Arizona, surrounded by lush desert vegetation. I would climb it, hide in it, and play around it. But I rarely knew any of the plants’ names, and I did not have much of a sense of what their roles (or mine) were in our shared community. It was a pleasant, but fairly shallow relationship, as the knowing of the other, the understanding of the other, was just at the surface level.
It didn’t help that my family had moved here from elsewhere. We were all greenhorns with no shared history or understanding of this place and its life.
But my play began to instill a wonder, a love, and a desire to know and share more. What did the early people of this place eat? What could I eat? Where did they get the things they needed? What could I provide? What would the wildlife eat? How come there were horned lizards, hummingbirds, big trees, water, butterflies, archaeological ruins, and/or dragonflies in some places, but not in others?
These answers and so many more came to light as I took the time and interest to delve deeper, to investigate, and to get to know these patterns and lives. I began to simply take note of where different plants lived—what microclimate (soil type, sun exposure, proximity to a watercourse, etc.) they seemed to prefer. Then I learned their names—through plant books, identification signs at botanical gardens, the local herbarium, or an introduction by a knowledgeable friend or guide on a plant walk.
It’s like getting to know a neighbor seen on a regular neighborhood walk. You learn their patterns, what route they like to walk. A familiarity grows with more interactions, and then you introduce yourself, ask their name, conversation continues, and the relationship grows.
Read on for the story of how an understanding and stewardship of local wild plants evolved for Brad, why his budding future as a water-harvesting practitioner might have been rooted in this process, and the resources this inspired him to eventually create and curate for his bioregion and others. If you don’t find such a resource for your region on his website, maybe you’ll uncover one elsewhere—or create one yourself—and share it with us?