Joel Tuhy. [Courtesy photo]

Desert water sources are rare, but in some locations, water comes right out of the rock, providing a haven for lush, green vegetation and wildflowers. The hanging garden is the most unusual form of spring-supported plant community on the Colorado Plateau.  

Self-described naturalist and plant-lover Joel Tuhy, who retired from The Nature Conservancy in 2021, will present his 15th free lecture on Thursday, April 27, at 5 p.m. at the Moab Information Center titled “Wildflowers and Other Features of Hanging Gardens.”  Tuhy’s presentation is sponsored by the Museum of Moab and the Canyonlands Natural History Association.

“Hanging gardens are a combination of physical (geomorphological) [features], water (hydrological), and life (biological),” Tuhy said. “These factors all combine to provide a haven for water-loving plants.”

Tuhy will showcase 13 plants, most of which are restricted to hanging gardens. He will also explain where the plants mainly occur, what causes these local wet sites to occur in the desert, and other exciting features that may only be readily apparent once described or shown. 

A Zion Shooting Star. [Crystal Muzik]

Hanging gardens provide a micro-scale of habitats that cannot be found in the surrounding expansive dry desert. Most of the plants found are harmless, but a few are not so much, so one must be watchful. Some plants found in hanging gardens are abundant. In contrast, others are scarce and only grow in garden habitats that appear to be suitable for them. Tuhy will explain how different seasons often produce different flower production throughout the year. 

When asked why Tuhy enjoys wildflowers the most, he replied, “They stay in place, unlike flighty birds or other kinds of animals that usually scurry away when approached. Plants afford you the luxury of walking right up to them and letting you study their distinguishing features at your leisure. In contrast, animals require you to identify them largely on their terms.”

Tuhy will incorporate stunning photos that he has taken from the past four decades living in Utah and weave a narrative with “bits of humor, suspense, and historical info” into his lecture.

“Nature is complex,” he said. He hopes his lecture will increase people’s knowledge and appreciation for hanging gardens and their plant life.

Tuhy suggests to everyone not to pick any flowers, step on them, or drive over them, etc. We often hear the tread-lightly slogan: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” However, Tuhy said, “If I really want to be conscientious about our local flora and erodible soils, then I will challenge myself to leave no footprints unless I am walking on a trail or in a wash.”

“Take the time to slow down; there is always something to see,” Tuhy said.