Yavpé Ethnobotany Garden Opening

An exhibit thousands of years in the making finally opened this past December at Sharlot Hall Museum.

The Yavpé Ethnobotany Garden at the Museum is an organic, living exhibit that showcases the resourcefulness and creativity of native Yavapai living off-the-land that became Arizona.

For centuries, the Yavpé (people of the sun) relied on native plants for their necessities… for their survival.  This garden exhibit on the Museum grounds showcases their creativity, resourcefulness, and innovations, and will transform an area of the Museum grounds to a drought-tolerant, ecology-based ancient native habitat. 

Long before the incursion of Conquistadors from New Spain or adventure-seekers from the Eastern Colonies, the native peoples of Arizona literally lived off the land.  Yavpé ancestors shared their seasonal survival techniques, passed orally from generation to generation.

Their lessons included where and when foods were available, where to find and how to process traditional medicines and remedies, how to build housing and shade, tools and hunting gear, bedding, bassinets and baskets with designs inspired by the plant-world surrounding the People.

Besides water, food was (and remains) a critical factor for survival in arid lands.  According to Tribal Elders (based on interviews dating to 1994), the Yavpé moved among seasonal camps across their territory of extremes in both altitude and climate that, taken together, provided a year-round grocery store.

Season by season, families harvested food from known, reliable localities throughout “Yavpé Country” – some 20,000 square miles spanning today’s Central Highlands of Arizona and stretches from the Mogollon Rim to the banks of the Colorado River.

For the garden exhibit, Tribal Elders provided identi­fi­ca­tions, usages for these native plants, and the indigenous native names for each – from the same Elders who were direct descendants of those who did the seasonal rounds described in the exhibit.

The Yavpé Ethnobotany Garden becomes the first permanent outdoor exhibit at the Museum, according to Fred Veil, former executive director, and will continue to be a work-in-process for decades as it transforms a significant part of the campus into a botanical heritage (and historic) site.

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