Gary Paul Nabhan, a Lebanese-American ethnobotanist and nature writer, began his field research of agaves in 1974 in the mountains of Central Arizona. Within two years, he was “welcomed” into the “Agave Family” by world famous plant explorer and agave taxonomist Howard Scott Gentry, who then offered him an internship at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Gentry Experimental Farm in Murrieta, California. After Gentry retired from the Desert Botanical Garden, Nabhan became Assistant Director there for for Collections, Research and Conservation. That is when he and botanist Wendy Hodgson found the first prehistoric domesticated agaves (A. murpheyi) surviving on terraced hillsides next to Indigenous agave knives in central Arizona. He assisted Wendy with her ground-breaking work on the ethnobotany and conservation of rare, domesticated agaves and assisted Donna Howell with determining impacts of mezcal making on bats in Mexico. In 2004, he and his long-time friend Ana Valenzuela-Zapata published the now classic Tequila: A Natural and Cultural History, still available from the University of Arizona Press.
Nabhan is now the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair for Borderlands Food and Water Security at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill and at the Southwest Center on its main campus. He is also a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commision workgroup on cacti, agaves and other succulents and a Food Forever Champion for Crop Trust. He grows more than forty species of agaves in his contemplative garden near the Arizona-Mexico border and is designed other climate-resilient gardens with agaves in perennial polycultures for non-profits in Arizona.