At a time when there were few acknowledged female botanists of note, Rose Collom became a respected authority on the native plants of Arizona. Rose was a self-taught botanist who began her love affair with Arizona’s plants at the age of 44 when she moved to the state with her husband in 1914. They lived in a remote area in Gila County in the rugged foothills of the Mazatzal Mountains six miles from the nearest person. Rose explained that while her husband was away during the day assessing the mine near their home, Rose found company with her surroundings. She began collecting seeds, cuttings and specimens that she planted in her gardens. Un-versed in the identification and nomenclature of the various flora, she sent for botany books and began corresponding with well-known botanists.
Plant collecting has played an important role in the understanding of biological diversity. Rose shared her careful observations and detailed descriptions of the habitats, bloom times, growing conditions and uses of native plants with scholars from many botanical institutions, including the Smithsonian. In the course of her work, she discovered several varieties previously unknown to scientists. Each was named after her, such as Dudleya Collomae, otherwise known as the Gila County Livestrong.
When naming the Gallium Collomae, Dr. John Thomas Howell of the California Academy of Sciences said, “It is a pleasure and honor to name this distinctive addition to the Arizona flora in honor of Mrs. Rose Collom who has done so much critical field work in that state.”
Rose was active in introducing the use of Arizona native plants for landscaping in home gardens and along highways. She did this by replanting different species of plants she found in the higher altitude areas of her surrounding mountains, replanting them near her home until they acclimated to the climate for several seasons, and then taking them to Phoenix to be replanted again. Her methods earned the respects of many scientists of the time. Her organization, the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society, founded the Desert Botanical Garden in 1937.
Although self-taught, she was the Grand Canyon National Park’s first paid botanist from 1939 until 1954. During her tenure at the Grand Canyon, Rose collected more than 800 plant specimens. She also collected and contributed hundreds of plant specimens to the U.S. National Herbarium and other institutions to further the study of Arizona’s flora.
“When one lives year after year apart from the world, miles from neighbors, towns, and railways, flowers become companions and one not only enjoys them, but learns much from them. Our Arizona wild flowers are unique, beautiful and hardy, and courageous. They often grow, bloom and bear their fruit under most discouraging conditions. One watches for them and greets them as old and faithful friends, and surely from them one can derive strength and courage and faith.”