Why should we give a hill of beans about legumes? They don’t amount to much, do they?
If anyone can put that old colloquial expression to rest it is Matthew B. Johnson, program manager and curator of DELEP, the acronym for the University of Arizona Desert Legume Program, and a botanist who has studied and collected wild legumes in many of the earth’s arid lands.
In fact, they matter a great deal to the world. With more than 17,000 species globally, legumes comprise one of our most valuable plant families. They provide protein-rich food for people, livestock, and wildlife; seeds for biomedical research; wood for fuel and shelter; and soil enrichment and erosion control. And from tiny lupines to stately ironwoods, they delight us with their beauty.
But legumes are in trouble. In a world where scarcity of water and loss of biodiversity are increasingly critical issues, many species are threatened with extinction.
At 3:00 p.m. Thursday (May 19), Johnson will be at the Arizona Senior Academy to discuss the importance of desert-dwelling legumes and the steps DELEP is taking to save them.
DELEP began in 1988 as a collaborative project of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. Since then, over 600 species have been grown in UA test fields to evaluate their performance and usefulness. The heart of the program is a seed bank that serves as a resource for the global community. The bank currently includes the seeds of 1,344 species of wild legumes collected from 57 countries on six continents.
Johnson, author of a popular field guide to the cacti of southern Arizona, is also a contributor to the upcoming “Legumes of Arizona: An Illustrated Flora and Reference.” Scheduled for publication in 2017 and written to appeal to a broad audience, it will be the first comprehensive reference to the state’s native, naturalized, and cultivated species.
Written by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer