The Desert Botanical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution was established by Volney M. Spaulding and William A. Cannon at Tumamoc Hill, Tucson, Arizona, in 1903. It was sold to the U.S. Forest Service in 1940, and later to the University of Arizona in 1960. The purpose of the laboratory was to research the of adaptation of desert plants to their environment. The Laboratory was directed by D.T. MacDougal from 1906 to 1918, then by Forrest Shreve from 1929 to 1938.
By 1920, a related institution, the Coastal Laboratory was established in Carmel, California with MacDougal as director.
This collection contains chiefly correspondence, along with reports, minutes of meetings, and financial records related to the establishment, development, and operation of the Desert Laboratory and Coastal Laboratory under directors Daniel T. MacDougal and Forrest Shreve. Correspondents include Carnegie Institution officials, the Smithsonian Institution, laboratory staff members Godfrey Sykes and Herman A. Spoehr, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, William Boyce Thompson, Andrew E. Douglass, and Mary Austin, as well as societies, herbariums, and universities around the world. Additional correspondence relates to equipment, scientific societies, plant exchanges and collecting, the University of Arizona, and personal material of both Shreve and MacDougal.