A greenhouse housing one of the beautiful botanical environments on the Navajo Nation. (Courtesy Navajo Nation)

‘Native Plant Garden’ Flourishes on Navajo Land

August 07, 2013

For nearly three decades, the Navajo Forestry Department has nurtured the “Native Plant Garden,” a gorgeous greenhouses of indigenous plants and flowers in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

The botanical environments grow seedlings year round, and most recently the Navajo Forestry Department committed to grow over 31,000 seedlings to help with replenishing the Coconino National Forest, one of the most diverse national forests in the country with landscapes ranging from the famous red rocks of Sedona to ponderosa pine forests, to alpine tundra.

In 1986, Amanullah K. Arbab, manager of Navajo Forestry Reforestation & Disease Control transported the first pine tree from the Chuska Mountains to the Native Plant Garden. Arbab arrived to Navajo Nation in 1979 with only $0.10, with an educational background in plant painology and botanical studies from Purdue University, he gravitated to Navajo Forestry Department and began his adventure as a botanist among the Navajo people.

 Northern Arizona University utilizes the greenhouses in Fort Defiance for seed processing; they are then transported for planting. Arbab works with many organizations to encourage native plant growth across the southwest region, he is a firm believer in having a healthy garden to keep the mind, spirit and body healthy.

Arbab welcomes the community to visit the Native Plant Garden and thankful for all the Navajo elders who have guided him thus far. “I envisioned a garden for young people to come and think, to find peace. This garden is unique because it holds a Native American ambience as you walk around here,” said Arbab. Each plant is useful to Navajo, either for medicinal use, to eat, basketry, making weapons or ceremonial use.

“This is a Native Plant Garden built by Navajo people and Navajo companies, I simply wanted to put my knowledge about plants to use by establishing a garden for the Navajo People,” explained Arbab. “I am originally from Pakistan, living here among the Navajos is quite rewarding and I enjoy my work everyday, this is my office,” added Arbab.

With over 110 plants at the Navajo Forestry’s Native Plant Garden, visitors will be amazed to see the years of dedication and planning sculpted by the Reforestation & Disease Control for future generations to enjoy. Species include; Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, Alligator Juniper, Apache Plume, Curlleaf Mountain Mahogony, Russian Sage, Wolfberry, Santa Rosa Plum, Fendler Bush, Utah Service Berry, Aspen Tree, Wax Currant, Sumac, Sagebrush, Joint Fir, Yucca, Cinque Foil, Creeping Mahonia, Cliff Rose and Peteria Scoparia known as the “Potato Medicine.”

Future plans include adding sculptures and gardening workshops for those seeking landscaping skills. Arbab envisions a small play area for school-age children near the courtyard, as he looks forward to the new school year and the many young people who will be visiting the Native Plant Garden, either for educational reasons or to simply find a quiet place to think, and meditate.

“The Native Plant Garden is a place where people, of all ages, can go and gain an understanding of all the native plant species that can be found on the Navajo Nation.  Our main focus is educating our young people and anyone interested in learning more about each plant,” stated Alexious Becent Sr., Navajo Forestry Department Manager.

Currently, the Navajo Forestry greenhouses have grown over 4 million seedlings, which have been replanted to rejuvenate the forest around Navajo Nation and over 1 million native plants seedlings for coalmine reclamation. For more information about the Native Plant Garden, visit http://www.dnrnavajo/forestry or call 928-729-4007.