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Earth Notes: Leslie Goodding

Aven Nelson Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

In May 1902 a young man with a black beard and tousled hair stood beside the Muddy River in a place later submerged by the waters of Lake Mead. Leslie Goodding inspected an unusual willow tree there—shrubby with long, slender branches and festooned with dangling, pale-yellow catkins. He cut a few sprigs from the tree and clamped them into his wooden plant press.  

Goodding was a 22-year-old University of Wyoming student on a plant-collecting expedition for his professor, botanist Aven Nelson. The tree was named Goodding willow—the favored nesting plant for a special bird, the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher. And river runners know of an especially old one at Granite Park in Grand Canyon.

He became the first biology teacher at what would become Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He went on to work at various government agencies and traveled widely throughout the Southwest, botanizing everywhere he went and contributing thousands of specimens for scientific study.

In southern Arizona, Goodding found a botanical paradise in rugged Sycamore Canyon in Santa Cruz County—beautiful lobelias, carpets of Alamo lotus, yellow-flowering currants, trailing raspberry vines, and serviceberry shrubs.  He also discovered a rare fern in a rocky crevice, a “little spleen-wort” named Asplenium exiguum, first described from a specimen collected in the faraway Himalayas.  

In later years, Goodding was upset by damage from livestock grazing at the mouth of the canyon. He passionately advocated that it be made into a conservancy. And so it was—and is named in his honor.  

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