Underwater sunflower

Update here.

You may have seen news of the dam that burst in the Grand Canyon National Park, necessitating the evacuation of several dozen people from the native American village of Supai. What you may not know is that Supai is quite famous in agrobiodiversity circles. ((And thanks to Colin for reminding me.))

Here’s an excerpt from a 2004 issue of Seedhead News, the newsletter of Native Seed/SEARCH, which focused on sunflower:

Anthropologist Frank Cushing found sunflowers growing in the gardens of the Havasupai when he visited in 1881. Although a decline in agriculture was noted around the 1940s, there were still sunflowers being grown in Supai when NS/S co-founders Gary Nabhan and Karen Reichhardt collected there in 1978. This was timely as devastating floods later nearly wiped out farming in the Havasupai’s homeland. Those seeds found in the bottom of the Grand Canyon are now being regenerated on our farm.

And here’s the money quote:

Australian sunflower farmers experienced a crisis when a new type of rust (a fungus) infected their plants. Research scientists found that Havasupai varieties of sunflower exhibit a unique gene that is resistant to this rust. Commercial varieties of sunflower seeds to be sold in Australia will now contain this important gene. Native Seeds/SEARCH was also instrumental in returning sunflower and other native crop varieties to the Havasupai to help rebuild their farming tradition.

But here’s the really cool part. The flow of genetic resources has not been in only one direction: USDA researchers are collecting sunflowers in Australia. Interdependence is all.

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