The Florilegium of the Joseph Wood Krutch Garden

The Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program is working with the University of Arizona Campus Arboretum and botanical artists to establish the Joseph Wood Krutch Garden Florilegium. This traditional florilegium will be a physical collection of art purchased by the Arboretum, accessioned, and permanently stored in Special Collections at the U of A Library. Special Collections will periodically exhibit the artwork at various venues on campus, and the collection will be available for loan for off-campus exhibits. The Campus Arboretum is responsible for raising funds to purchase the artwork, and the Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program will help recruit artists and assist the Campus Arboretum with fundraising efforts.

HISTORY OF THE GARDEN.  When the University of Arizona was established as a Land Grant Institute in 1891, Dr. James Toumey, a botanist for the Agricultural Experiment Station on campus, recognized the educational value of the native vegetation that evolved in the Sonoran desert over thousands of years. He started a cactus display garden at the University that is now known as the Joseph Wood Krutch Garden, named after the noted writer and naturalist.

The University’s cactus collection consisted of over 600 species in the late 1890s. Over time it has varied in size and location. By 1980, what had become an island of desert plants surrounded by grass, was dedicated to Joseph Wood Krutch, whose personal papers are held by the U of A Library.

Over the years new species were added to the garden, and in 2004 it became part of the Alumni Plaza and was enlarged and planted with additional Sonoran Desert species. Members of the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society helped in planting cactus and succulents in the Krutch Garden and Alumni Plaza and in accessioning the plants in the Krutch Garden.

This collection of desert plants is the last remnant of the University’s oldest and most significant educational garden and perpetuates the legacy of Joseph Wood Krutch. The Joseph Wood Krutch Garden Florilegium will document the scientific and aesthetic value of the Garden’s native plant collection, which to date contains over 50 species of plants with additional plantings in progress.

JOSEPH WOOD KRUTCH.  Krutch (pronounced KROOCH) traveled to the Southwest a number of times as a tourist and felt a kinship with the Sonoran Desert. During his travels he found himself in some “mood” and wanted to explore the charm exerted by this country of cactus and mesquite and creosote bush. In 1951, he decided to spend a 15-month sabbatical in Tucson to immerse himself in the land and its plants and animals which would to enable him to truly see and learn about the Desert Southwest. In his book, The Desert Year, first published in 1952, he tells us what he came to know and feel about the Sonoran Desert.

In order to truly see the desert life around him, he found he needed to continually observe and be aware of the land and its plants and animals. Although he found this continuous observation and awareness a challenge, he believed it was the only way of truly living with the land. Krutch realized this land did not have universal appeal. It was not easy and luxurious. To some it was merely stricken. He believed that all life in the desert finds the dryness to be normal. For plant life, this dryness creates a natural spacing where plants are not crowded together, enabling one to easily walk about the land. He discusses the way all living things adapted and learned to endure the austerity of the desert combining oddness of form with ways to flourish under what seemed to be impossible conditions. Referring to these adaptations as the wisdom of the desert he believed, we could learn from this wisdom by living with what the desert had to offer.

The Desert Year was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for Natural History. It is a remarkable book about our desert written by a man who understood long before the environmental movement began the importance of humans learning to live with their environment.— Margaret Pope