The Colorado Plateau has long been a haven for botanists and herbalists. Of the four states it encompasses, Arizona and New Mexico are ranked the third and fourth most botanically diverse nationwide and Utah is ranked fifth for the highest rate of endemic plants.
From prehistoric days to recent decades, herbalists and healers have been attracted to this rich landscape and have used the region’s native plants for a variety of purposes, including natural medicine. For centuries traditional healers had knowledge of customary remedies and were able to prescribe plant-based treatments for many human ailments. And these healers aren’t all from ancient history.
Michael Shaw Moore (1941-2009) was a well-known herbalist, mentor, musician, and author. In addition to a deep understanding of plants and their faculties, Moore became a mentor, educator, and friend to a wide range of students interested in herbal medicine.
In the early 1980’s he founded the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine (SWSBM). More than a mentor, Moore was a humanitarian, seeking to help patients and educate the public while asking very little in return. Along with his longtime friend and colleague Phyllis Hogan, owner of Winter Sun Trading company, Moore co-founded the Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association (AERA) in Flagstaff.
Moore was known among his colleagues and students as the leader of the herbal medicine revival in the Southwest and his work continues to be revolutionary to this day. It is because of this work that the Michael Moore Native Medicinal Plant Garden was created in his memory.
Originally located at the Olivia White Hospice Home on Switzer Canyon Road, volunteers were forced in 2016 to relocate the garden because of the city’s road realignment program. Plants were taken to the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA), with a few also making their way to the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center. Both locations are a good fit for the medicinal garden, as they celebrate the biodiversity of the lands Moore held so dear.
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But the early days of the garden relocation were anything but easy. At MNA the snows melted back in the spring of 2018 to reveal a courtyard riddled with gophers and weeds. However, a team of Coconino County Master Gardeners and MNA volunteers set to work improving the area. And by the end of the summer, the space was unrecognizable.
The volunteers had transformed it into beds of thriving, native plants from various bioregions, including those from desert scrub, shrub-steppe, montane systems, limestone habitats, and riparian forests.
Of the 105 medicinal species used in the garden, over half were sown, germinated, and grown in greenhouses from 2016-2019. The rest were rescues from the Olivia White space, purchases, donations, and gifts. Before planting, garden beds at MNA were carved through clay and rock, lined with gopher wire, and carefully amended with manure and compost.
Once they were finally in the ground, the plants were nurtured daily. Volunteers watered during times of little moisture, and fortified the garden against marauding rabbits, deer, and gophers. Then they prepared them for each change in season by mulching in the fall and tackling weeds each spring. Without their tireless efforts and determination, the garden would not be what it is today: a lush kaleidoscope of native plants flowering all summer long and creating ideal conditions for multitudes of pollinators and viewers alike.
Though still barely two years old, the garden is already putting down deep roots. Moore’s intention to teach the public about medicinal plants is carried on by his students, several of whom will be visiting the garden in the spring and summer of 2020 to lead workshops.