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Past Projects: Southwest Regis-Tree

Combining food folklore with in situ plant conservation, the Southwest Regis-Tree seeks to document, protect and promote the threatened heirloom perennial species and varieties adapted to the Southwest.

Just as remaining varietal diversity of annual crops faces myriad challenges to its continued existence, so too does diversity of perennial fruit and nut varieties. Consolidation in the nursery trade has greatly reduced the diversity of tree crops available to the public, while climate change, catastrophic weather events, and neglect continue to whittle down the number of ancient heirloom trees in our landscapes.

Recognizing these risks to the heirloom fruit heritage of the Southwest, Native Seeds/SEARCH initiated the Arizona Regis-Tree project in 1991 to document and safeguard remaining fruit and nut diversity associated with perennial plants in the Grand Canyon State. In 2005, under the guidance of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University, the Regis-Tree was expanded to the entire Southwest, including both public and private lands in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Texas. The Southwest Regis-Tree is now working to catalogue remaining heirloom trees of the region, to promote their conservation and use, and to act as a model for the development of similar projects across North America.

Documenting Diversity

It would be difficult to conserve and promote local heirloom fruit trees if their existence remained unknown. The core of the Southwest Regis-Tree project is therefore a database of trees, shrubs, vines, orchards, mixed perennial gardens, and wild collecting areas of historical significance. The Regis-Tree tracks a wealth of information, from the history of each site to the varietal identities of the plants themselves and their conservation status. To date, over 100 historic orchards and remnant stands have been entered in the Regis-Tree from Arizona alone, representing at least 22 species and 60 distinct fruit and nut varieties associated with Native American, Chinese, European, Hispanic, and Mexican cultural legacies. You can help the Regis-Tree grow by nominating heirloom trees for inclusion in the database.

Related Projects

The mission and activities of the Southwest Regis-Tree are complemented by those of the Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) project. The RAFT project has taken a multi-pronged approach to the conservation of the region's heirloom fruit trees, pairing training workshops on tree identification, propagation, and documentation with historic orchard restoration and the promotion of heirloom fruits through marketing and culinary venues. With assistance from Native Seeds/SEARCH and other organizations, RAFT has offered one national workshop and three regional workshops in the Southwest, and four regional workshops in New England and the Midwest. Orchard restoration efforts have been undertaken at several sites across the Southwest. "We're actively working with Hopi orchard-keepers to take cuttings from trees that survived the drought to return grafted saplings to their communities," explained Gary Paul Nabhan, co-founder of NS/S, the Southwest Regis-Tree, and RAFT, in 2006. "We're also helping to restore historic orchards in state and national parks, from Capitol Reef in Utah's canyonlands, to Slide Rock near Sedona, all the way down to Organ Pipe Cactus on the Mexican border."

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project is another complementary project whose mission is to identify fruit varieties from the Spanish Mission Era in the Sonoran Desert region, restore them to appropriate historic orchard sites, and make them available to the public.

Securing the Future of Food

Securing the Future of Food

Crop diversity is key to achieving sustainable food security both globally and within our own region of focus, the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Our approach to food security focuses on seed security, which relies on the conservation and sharing of appropriate crop diversity and the knowledge to use that diversity effectively. Our programs are designed to address these goals and broadly entail:

  • Seed banking to ensure the survival of unique agricultural biodiversity and to document its traits.
  • Seed distribution so that these crops continue to contribute to the region's food systems.
  • Support for on-farm maintenance of dynamically-evolving crop varieties.
  • Research into low-input and climate-appropriate agricultural practices.
  • Education in managing local crop diversity and contributing to regional efforts.
Learn More About Our Approach
Many Ways to Get Connected with Seeds

Many Ways to Get Seeds

Agricultural biodiversity is most valuable when it is actively used to strengthen local food and farming systems. With this in mind, Native Seeds/SEARCH strives to provide affordable public access to seeds of regionally-appropriate crop varieties. We have programs designed to meet the needs of many types of individuals and organizations.

    • ADAPTS: An online platform for exploring the contents of the NS/S seed bank collection. If you want to conduct a detailed search for appropriate crop varieties, start here. Otherwise, you may explore currently available seed varieties through our online store.
    • Native American Seed Request: Provides a limited number of seed packets at zero or reduced cost to Native American individuals.
    • Seed Library: If you are in Tucson, Arizona, we encourage you to visit our seed library.
    • Retail Sales: If you are looking for seeds for personal use and are ineligible for seeds through our other programs, you may purchase seeds online or at our retail store in Tucson, Arizona. Some varieties are in limited supply and are restricted to NS/S members and Free Seed recipients.
    • ADAPTS: An online platform for exploring the contents of the NS/S seed bank collection. If you want to conduct a detailed search for appropriate crop varieties, start here. Otherwise, you may explore currently available seed varieties through our online store.
    • Native American Seed Request: Provides a limited number of seed packets at zero or reduced cost to Native American individuals.
    • Bulk Seed Exchange: Makes bulk seed quantities available to farmers in exchange for a return of seeds after a successful harvest.
    • Retail Sales: If you are looking for seeds for personal use and are ineligible for seeds through our other programs, you may purchase seeds online or at our retail store in Tucson, Arizona. Some varieties are in limited supply and are restricted to NS/S members and Free Seed recipients.
    • ADAPTS: An online platform for exploring the contents of the NS/S seed bank collection. If you want to conduct a detailed search for appropriate crop varieties, start here. Otherwise, you may explore currently available seed varieties through our online store.
    • Community Seed Grants: Free seeds for organizations (including schools) that are working to promote nutrition, food security, education, agricultural sustainability, and/or community resilience.
    • Retail Sales: If you are looking for seeds for personal use and are ineligible for seeds through our other programs, you may purchase seeds online or at our retail store in Tucson, Arizona. Some varieties are in limited supply and are restricted to NS/S members and Free Seed recipients.
    • ADAPTS: An online platform for exploring the contents of the NS/S seed bank collection. If you want to conduct a detailed search for appropriate crop varieties, start here. Otherwise, you may explore currently available seed varieties through our online store.
    • Researchers: If you are a researcher interested in incorporating material from our collection into your research, please contact us. We are committed to continued open public accessibility of crop diversity and will not make seeds available for research purposes that are contrary to that goal.
Learn More about How to Obtain Seeds
Many Ways to Get Educated

Many Ways to Get Educated

At Native Seeds/SEARCH, we believe that education is an important key to building individual and community capacity for seed and food security. Our education offerings are intended to provide skills and knowledge around seed saving, aridlands agriculture, and related topics.

  • Courses and Workshops: Our instructional programming trains individuals and organizations in the Southwest to save, share, and produce their own seeds. We offer focused courses for students at different learning levels and seed saving goals.
  • Native Seeds/SEARCH Blog: Our blog is frequently updated with stories and practical advice related to the work that we do and the issues that we care about.
  • The Seedhead News: Our tri-annual newsletter also contains a wealth of useful information to help you get the most out of your seeds and to understand their cultural and historical contexts.
  • Our website also contains pages about Gardening in the Desert and Seed Saving.
Learn More About Our Education Programs

News and Stories

Adopt-A-Crop 2017 Update

Adopt-A-Crop 2017 Update

Staff Picks: Guide to Local Gifts

Staff Picks: Guide to Local Gifts

Fall Planting for Spring Blooms

Fall Planting for Spring Blooms

Community Partner Highlight: Las Milpitas Farm

Community Partner Highlight: Las Milpitas Farm

Cool Season Growing in the Low Desert

Cool Season Growing in the Low Desert

Great Grasshopper Plague of 2017

Great Grasshopper Plague of 2017

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