Wednesday, March 2nd at 7 p.m.: “A Journey Across the Southwest: Unveiling the Relationships of a Spiny Group of Desert Shrubs called Glossopetalon” with Maya Allen

Maya Allen, doctoral student at UNM will introduce us to a little known Chihuahan Desert genus: Glossopetalon. These cryptic, intricately branched shrubs have been difficult to identify due to the lack of delineating morphological characteristics. In this talk we will transverse the range of Glossopetalon, learn the species and their identifiers, as well as uncover their newly discovered relationships as a result of Maya’s analyses.

“I don’t see the desert as barren at all; I see it as full and ripe. It doesn’t need to be flattered with rain. It certainly needs rain, but it does with what it has, and creates amazing beauty.”

— Joy Harjo

Desert ecosystems harbor some of the most endangered species in the world. Their unique stressors have elicited captivating adaptations such as succulence, thorns, and shiny, waxy cuticles. A distinctive population of short, compact, scabrous shrubs were discovered in arid northern Arizona and their identity was questioned due to their unique morphology. The many morphological variations – no doubt due to the stressors encountered from the northern Chihuahuan deserts of New Mexico to the Mojave desert in Nevada- became a Master’s research topic for Maya. She aimed to identify this northern Arizonian population as well as the species relationships within their hypothesized genus, Glossopetalon, an understudied group of angiosperm desert shrubs in the small family of conservation concern, the Crossosomataceae, found throughout the western United States and northern Mexico on limestone substrates.

Maya L. Allen is a doctoral student in the University of New Mexico’s Biology Department and an Albuquerque native. Advised by Dr. Kenneth Whitney, her dissertation examines plant colonization and a specific mechanism – phenotypic plasticity, which is the ability for a single genotype to express different phenotypes depending on the environment. She is one of the co-organizers of the social media campaign #BlackBotanistsWeek, which has garnered international engagement “to promote, encourage, create a safe space for, and find Black people who love plants.” To rectify the erasure of Black Botanists in New Mexico, she also researches the state’s first all-Black town, Blackdom. By drawing on her scientific expertise, she highlighted the importance of botany in this agricultural-based society. Ms. Allen holds a master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from Northern Arizona University. Her master’s thesis utilized phylogenomics to elucidate the previously unknown species relationships of the genus Glossopetalon. She also holds Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Alabama and is an avid college football enthusiast. She was interested in plants from an early age, and during advanced studies she chose botany over algae because she liked the more expanded area of research.

We hope to begin meeting in person at the NM Museum of Natural History in early 2022. Watch the website and your email for updates about location or Zoom links.