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A ‘perfect space’ for peach trees in the desert

David Sowders, Assistant Editor
Posted 2/14/24

Annie Weaver- Bryant said the Boyce Thompson Arboretum “was like a backyard to me” when she was younger.

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A ‘perfect space’ for peach trees in the desert


Annie Weaver- Bryant said the Boyce Thompson Arboretum “was like a backyard to me” when she was younger. Now the third-year doctoral student at Arizona State University is enjoying her work in that backyard as she studies how peach trees respond to hot climates.

“It’s a dream come true. We were there (at the arboretum) constantly, and I remember meeting some of the botanists who worked there when I was young,” said Weaver- Bryant, who hails from Globe. “If I could look back at anything that truly inspired me, I would tie it most specifically to the arboretum. It’s really cool to be able to work there today and be a part of that legacy.” Another of her inspirations, she said, was a Forest Service program called More Kids in the Woods.

“Everybody in my family has worked with plants in some way: I come from a lot of agriculture."

She said she is probably the first in her family to attend ASU, with most going to the University of Arizona. Now she is in the third year of her PhD program in Environmental Life Sciences.

Her first laboratory experience was working with fossil plants, but she then moved to an agricultural lab. “I quickly realized that I wanted to work with heat adaptation and climate change. I wanted to understand how our crops, especially, would respond.”

For her project at Boyce Thompson, with funding from a Bernard "Bill" Benson Research Award she received last fall, Weaver-Bryant has planted three peach tree varieties: Desert Gold, Florida Prince and Tropic Snow. These, she said, will grow even in south Phoenix, where it's 10 degrees hotter than Superior.

"I'm looking at what mechanism in the peach plant allows it to respond so well to our hot climate." She said the arboretum was "the perfect space' because, while still being in the Sonoran Desert, it has a slightly higher elevation where the peach trees can get a needed chilling period. "We're giving them the best possible environment we can and the most possible chill hours, to see how they're doing so well in this area."

From ASU's Changbin Chen Lab, Weaver-Bryant makes the roughly 45-minute drive from campus to collect flower buds and leaves from the trees for processing back in Tempe. "Right now the lab I'm in mostly does plant breeding, and can do it pretty selectively. I'm looking at pollen and leaf development, and we're also planning to synthesize the DNA."

Last fall, as part of the opening ceremonies of the arboretum's "100 Tree Spree" event, Weaver-Bryant gave a short presentation on her project (she was not a part of the event itself) - an endeavor, she told the Silver Belt, that in time could benefit the Navajo Nation. She said they will be able to compare the three varieties she is growing to the Navajo or Diné peach. "We'll be able to basically help them increase the genetic diversity of their orchards and help them help their trees adapt to the heat that is increasing every day." She added that she does not and will not be growing Diné peaches, since that is a culturally closed practice.

"Right now I'm working toward my comprehensive exams at ASU, and hoping to keep my trees alive," she said. Another hope, she added, involves "some talk at the arboretum" of incorporating the trees into a wedding venue. "We're hoping to curate that space and make it beautiful for the public once I'm done."