The thousands of Tucsonans who trek up Tumamoc Hill day in and day out may not know that they pass by a century-old research station essential to our understanding of plants.
Roughly a third of the way up Tumamoc Hill sit several low-slung stone buildings surrounded by native vegetation. This is the Desert Laboratory, established in 1903 by the Carnegie Institution to study and understand how plant life adapts to aridity.
Since its inception, the research site has made significant contributions to science, said Director Ben Wilder. Being a hill, Tumamoc offers multiple ecological zones for study and comparison.
"These are the longest continuously monitored vegetation plots in the world, actually," he said. "The discipline of ecology in North America was born here."
The original site included a Victorian-style greenhouse, which suffered through 100 years of wear and occasional repair. When Wilder joined the lab in 2016, the greenhouse was on the verge of being condemned. Instead, with help from the University of Arizona (which bought the Tumamoc property in 1956), the National Park Service and community members, they rebuilt it. The greenhouse officially reopened Sept. 6.
Like the rest of Tumamoc, the newly renovated greenhouse will offer space for plant research. But its primary goal is educational, Wilder said.