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Scottsdale Librarian Runs Maricopa Native Seed Library In Effort To Preserve Desert Flora

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Monday, January 18, 2021 - 2:35pm
Updated: Thursday, January 21, 2021 - 9:55am

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Arizona rosemallow
Danielle Carlock
A black swallowtail butterfly is seen nectaring on a New Mexico thistle, Cirsium neomexicanum.

LAUREN GILGER: When we think about going into nature, a lot of us probably think about going out into the wilderness, hitting a hiking trail, maybe seeing a national park. But for our next guest, nature can — and should — be something we experience all around us, even in our yards or on a windowsill. Danielle Carlock is a librarian at Scottsdale Community College by trade. But her most recent project involves a different kind of library: A seed library. As the Phoenix New Times first reported, Carlock created the Maricopa Native Seed Library as part of her sabbatical project. For it, she gathers seeds native to the Sonoran Desert and gives them away, plus planting instructions, to anyone who's interested in creating their own desert oasis at home. But these aren't your typical tomatoes and spinach you might normally plant in a garden. I spoke with Carlock more about it.

DANIELLE CARLOCK: There are food plants in the seed library, but my main focus is native plants that might be considered landscaping plants, although a lot of them are edible. The ones that are more wildflower-like and are easy to grow — a really popular Blanket flower is one of those. It's a really, you know, kind of happy-looking plant that's kind of multicolored blooms. Chocolate flower that has, believe it or not, an amazing chocolate scent. There's a few shrubs that have been really popular and Pink Fairy Duster's been one of them. Oh, there's a passion flower that people are going crazy about. It's actually called a Desert Passion Flower, and it has those beautiful, you know, purple and white, you know, blooms — really elaborate blooms. But it's also a host plant for the Gulf — for Fritillary butterflies. So that's why I'm promoting it. And so that's been really popular as well.

GILGER: Oh, that's so cool. So let's talk a little bit about the backstory here. Like, how did this all come about? How did you come up with this idea?

CARLOCK: So a few things were kind of converging. At the same time, I've been doing a lot of plant gardening, native plant gardening, at home. And as I got more and more into it, I started to realize that I thought I knew all the Sonoran Desert plants, you know, because I knew the ones that were really, really more common. And as I started doing more hiking and using the iNaturalist app and looking more closely, I started seeing a lot of plants I'd never noticed before and getting them identified. And I started seeing that there's so much more out there than we're growing in our yards that, that are represented in the developed areas of Maricopa County. And so I started seeing that and reading about that. At the same time, I'm kind of seeing all these pressures on our native populations of plants out in the wild. I'm seeing all these fires, I'm seeing drought, all the invasive species. And so I'm thinking that the more we can have these plants represented in our yards, which are not typically there for a lot of different reasons, the better will be able to conserve native plants and the wildlife that, that is supported by them.

GILGER: So with this seed library, you are giving out seeds for these native plants to just, to people to plant in their yards, to plant in their gardens, to landscape with, right? How does that kind of add up to make a difference? Give us a sense of the why here.

CARLOCK: So if you build it, they will come. I had a bare dirt, you know, yard — 10 years ago my dirt from my yard was bare dirt, I had nothing here. It was a foreclosure. And I started adding plants, adding plants that support wildlife. And every year I got new species coming to the point now where there's always something going on out there. You know, I have lots of butterflies. I have a lot of hummingbirds. I have a lot of other types of birds. I have bees, a lot of native bees. So if you build it, they will come, they will see it. And the more we can put in, the more they'll, they'll come and the more they'll be able to use our spaces.

GILGER: So this is very much then about pollinators.

CARLOCK: Yes. A large proportion of our food crops require pollination by a pollinator. Vast amounts of our food crops require pollinators. So you're looking at if pollinators are struggling, that's going to have an impact on our food security. They're also huge parts of the whole food chain. If you remove anything from a food chain, it affects the whole food chain. Because at the same time that butterflies might be pollinating our native plants and and even some crops, they're also in the food chain as they're caterpillars. Once they lay their eggs and they go in their caterpillar stage before they become an adult butterfly, they are a huge food source for other things higher in the food chain.

GILGER: So it's sort of this idea that if you give an individual, you know, native seeds to plant these native plants in their homes to support the native ecosystems that need to be here, that on a small scale can really add up.

CARLOCK: Yes, it can add up. And, and then the other part of it is the human enjoyment of that, because as you start to see all these different types of species coming into your yard, there's a lot of enjoyment in watching them. You know, I've gotten really into butterfly photography and I've got a special binoculars to see them close up. You know, there's a lot of enjoyment that comes from that, especially during the pandemic where we're spending more time at home. You know, you can just step right outside and you can really enjoy these things, and there's so many studies that show the benefits to humans health-wise.

GILGER: So for all of those people who think about nature and they think about, you know, the wild lands, they think about public lands, they think about national forests and public parks, etc., this can be something that you do yourself even on like a windowsill.

CARLOCK: Yeah, it doesn't have to require a lot of space. You know, I've had a lot of people contacting me about what they can grow in containers. You know, they only have a patio, things like that. And there's quite a few natives that will do very well in pots. And, you know, they can be kept in small spaces. So it's for everybody.

GILGER: Yeah. So where do you get these kinds of seeds? I imagine they can't be all that easy to find.

CARLOCK: Yeah, that's been an interesting journey. I have a permit from the Tonto National Forest to collect, and I regularly go out. I have a few different field sites that I use. I've had all sorts of, if you'd like to say trials and tribulations, with collecting seed. Everything from, you know, going back out to a site, expecting seed to be ready and discovering that the whole thing was trampled and, and eaten by cattle. You know, I've had — you know, the drought had a big impact. I was expecting to be able to do a lot of collecting post-monsoon this fall. And really, there's nothing much going on. I'm having to resort right now to collecting primarily from campus and my home garden.

GILGER: I mean, where do you see this heading? I mean, this is your own sort of sabbatical project right now, right? But it seems to be growing. It's getting some attention and, and, and can if it, if it expands, make quite a difference. What do you hope comes from this?

CARLOCK: Well, I'm hoping to create sort of a program that's tying the seed library to the curriculum at the colleges. So we have a sustainability program. We have a lot of other programs, culinary, that would make sense being connected to this. But I think there's a wide, you know, a wide need for it. There isn't really a lot of native seed available in Maricopa County, especially for the plants that I'm featuring. I really intentionally selected the plants that are included to be ones that are not available commercially. You can't go to the nursery and buy it as a potted plant or even get the seeds in most cases for these.

GILGER: Yeah. All right. Well, that is Danielle Carlock, library faculty at Scottsdale Community College who has started this native seed library out of there. Danielle, thank you so much for coming on The Show to tell us about this.

CARLOCK: Thank you very much.

EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is licensed to the Maricopa County Community College District. The photo caption has been updated to correctly identify the New Mexico thistle.

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