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Arizona volunteers catalog thousands of plants

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It is just one of many guides that volunteers use to identify an unknown type of plant, said volunteer Bob Ballard. He has contributedĀ more thanĀ 300 types of plants to the herbarium.

"I enjoy the study of plants," he began as he pulled out another guide and leafs through the pages. "There are ways to find out what a plant is by knowing its leaf structure or flower structure. Some require the use of a microscope to find the characteristics that help you identify it. There are seeds and flowers of many plants that are so tiny you need the microscope. It can be quite challenging."

Mr. Ballard emphasized that it took him a few years to get up to speed in the plant world. He found that the books with detailed line drawings were the best sources for identification.

Lumer points out that Ballard is the go-to guy who enters all the data on the Web site. So far, there are 2,697 entries in the database.

When asked what was the most amazing thing he found, Ballard replied, "The most amazing thing will be what I haven't found."

Several years ago, Lumer went back to college and earned a doctorate in botany. With her degree came the urge to find a place that would serve as a repository for all the plant life found in the sky islands and high desert area of the county.

The herbarium is currently in a former potting shed on the University of Arizona South campus in Sierra Vista and is quickly outgrowing the small, 8-by-12-foot facility. Several cabinets hold thousands of files. A long counter provides a table to work on while identifying and mounting the specimens. In one corner, a computer awaits the input of new data; another holds a bookcase stacked with reference books. There is little room to move around.

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