Deserts, Plants, and People

Steve Smith
Thursdays 10 Am - 12 PM (AZ Time)
June 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30, and July 7, 2022
Watch the video to learn more about this course

Deserts, Plants, and People

Summer 2022
In Session
10 Am - 12 PM (AZ Time)
June 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30, and July 7, 2022


Main Campus



Attend In Person OR Online!
See Below for full details about our new Hybrid courses

Arid and semiarid environments, commonly known as "deserts," make up about one-third of the earth's land surface and are home to more than one billion people. We will begin this course by discussing the geographical features of desert regions, answering seemingly simple questions: What is a desert, and why do they occur where they do? While humans are particularly maladapted to life in deserts, many other organisms present in these environments exhibit remarkable and compelling adaptations to aridity and other desert-associated conditions. We will investigate examples of these within plants from different desert regions, highlighting these species' functional roles within desert ecosystems. The key question will be: How do these plants grow and develop in these environments? Significant events in human history occurred in deserts, as do many issues in contemporary politics, international relations, and natural resource use. Throughout the course, we will consider humans and their influences on desert environments focusing on the consequences and sustainability of these actions. We will consider much more challenging questions here: how does society steward deserts, and what are the consequences of failing to do this properly?

Please Note: This course is an updated version of the same course offered by Professor Smith in Summer 2018.

NEW - Hybrid Course Format

  • All classes will be delivered both in person and online via live video streaming. Students will enroll in their preferred format during registration.
  • In person classes will be held in the Rubel Room at the University of Arizona's Poetry Center (1508 E Helen St, Tucson, AZ 85721). Enrollment for in person classes is limited by classroom capacity and offered on a first come, first served basis. All students attending on campus will observe the relevant University of Arizona policies designed to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 (more information here). Students who enroll to attend in person will also have complete online access to the course including all class recordings.   
  • Online students may attend all classes via live video streaming and will be able to participate in all course Q&A sessions with the professor in real time. Students may also access class recordings for a limited time to assist those who may not be able to attend the live class times. Online access will be password protected and only available to enrolled students.

Registration Will Open Online:
Monday, APRIL 11, 2022 at 8 AM (AZ Time)

Recommended Reading: 

The following materials will be provided electronically to enrolled students:

  • Laty, Julie J. 2009. Introduction: Defining the Desert System. p. 1-13, In: Deserts and Desert Environments, Hoboken, GB: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Welland, Michael. 2015. The Desert. Land of Lost Borders. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Course Registration

Meet Your Professor

Associate Professor
School of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment

STEVE SMITH is an Associate Professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, where he has been on the faculty since 1984. He grew up in the central valley of California, where he first began working with plants under the supervision of his father, a commercial plant breeder. After receiving a B.S. in Plant Sciences from the University of California, Davis, he received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University in Plant Breeding and Botany. Postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison preceded his arrival in Arizona. His research interests reflect his training in application-oriented plant improvement and his fascination with plant adaptation in natural plant communities in arid environments. He is also consulting with other researchers on experimental design and analysis. Dr. Smith teaches undergraduate courses in biology, field botany, and sustainability. He received the Bart Cardon Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona and the Ted and Shirley Taubeneck Superior Teaching Award from the Humanities Seminars Program.


Poetry Center
Dorothy Rubel Room
1508 E Helen
Tucson, AZ 85721
United States
Located on the SE corner of Helen Street and Vine Avenue, one block north of Speedway and three blocks west of Campbell Ave.

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