South Mountain Community College Historic Walking Tour – Stop 3

Xeriscape Desert Garden

Historical Period: Spanish Arizona to Mexican Arizona, 1582-1848


Wander around the xeriscape garden in front of our Science Complex. Most of these plants are native to the Southwest, and few require much water or maintenance. Two of the most symbolic to Arizona are the Palo Verde (meaning green bark) and the towering Saguaro cactus.


What type of changes do you think were introduced during the time period mentioned above?

The Spanish laid claim to California, modern-day Mexico, and the Southwest from the 16th century until Mexican independence in 1821. During this time, they introduced several new aspects of life to the native people. The Spaniards initially brought weapons, livestock, and new crops. They also brought “Old World” diseases, to which many native people succumbed. It might surprise you to learn that horses, a Southwestern staple, were first introduced to the Americas by the Spanish in the 16th century. In return, native people traded farming techniques and crops (like corn and potatoes), as well as precious minerals (like gold.) This global trade network became known as the Columbian Exchange.

Question: What was a benefit of the Columbian Exchange?

Perhaps the most interesting and less-known product of the Columbian Exchange was from a plant you can see here in the xeriscape garden. For years, Europeans had struggled to develop colored ink beyond black, blue-greys, and browns. When the Spanish first arrived in what they called “The New World,” they were delighted to see people dressed in vibrant reds and purples throughout the Aztec empire. The color red was a precious commodity and they could only get it in Southwest and modern-day Mexico. Any guess where the color red came from?

Tour Map

Click the image to see the tour map.