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Arizona volunteers catalog thousands of plants

The Cochise County Herbarium helps residents identify ordinary and unusual plants found in backyards, alleyways, mountains, and deserts.

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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.

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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.

Lumer has managed to get half-a-dozen more needed storage cabinets, but there is no room for them in the facility.

All the volunteers would like to see the herbarium receive more attention and find a new home where there is room to carry on their work. Overhead expenses are a concern.

"We don't have to pay any rent here," said Lumer. "I don't know how we'd pay for something larger."

Mimi Kamp is another avid collector as is Cindy Sprecher, who also a birder. Both women like to hike and bring back things of interest.

"I knew nothing about plants when I started this. Then I got addicted," added Ms. Sprecher.

Lumer explained, "When you have a passion for plants, you have it for the rest of your life."

Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page. Our blog archive. Our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest. We’ll be looking for photographs of fruits. So find your best shots of summer’s blueberries, peaches, plums, etc., and get out your camera to take some stunning shots of early fall apples. Post them before Sept. 30, 2009, and you could be the next winner.