The 1930s Dust Bowl taught us that plants play a critical role in the health of our environment. At that time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a number of Soil Conservation Nurseries throughout the country to grow and distribute plants for the stabilization of severely eroding lands. Since the mid-1930s, this need for conservation plants has grown into the present day Plant Materials Program.
The Program was created in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) Division of Nurseries. It later became the SCS Plant Materials Program and is known today as the NRCS Plant Materials Program.
The Program conducts its plant evaluation activities under the guiding philosophy of Dr. Franklin J. Crider, first head of the Plant Materials Section: “In most cases nature has evolved a plant for almost every growing condition.” These plants and the associated plant technologies are invaluable resources in the implementation of USDA conservation programs.
In 1934, the first Plant Materials Center was established in Tucson, Arizona, under the direction of F. J. Crider. The Tucson Plant Materials Center was built by the Bureau of Plant Industry, a Bureau within the US Department of Agriculture. Numerous Plant Materials Centers, originally called erosion nurseries, or erosion experiment stations were built by the Bureau across the nation in response to the devastation of the "Dust Bowl" era in the early 1930's. At this same time another agency called the Soil Erosion Service, a temporary agency created in 1933 within the Department of the Interior, was also establishing nurseries to produce plants and seed for conservation demonstration projects.
The Soil Erosion Service was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1935 and on April 27, 1935 Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act, creating the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). In 1935, USDA consolidated the Soil Erosion Service and the erosion nurseries and erosion experiment stations of the Bureau of Plant Industry into the new Soil Conservation Service.
The Tucson Plant Materials Center served as the headquarters for the Southwest which included facilities at Safford, Arizona and Shiprock, New Mexico. The Center was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.