Boyce Thompson Arboretum, an Arizona oasis, sits at the base of Picketpost Mountain just 30 minutes east on Highway 60 in Superior – just right for a day trip from Florence, Queen Creek or Apache Junction.
Plan a trip in May to Arizona's oldest and largest botanical garden to see late spring blooms and enjoy temperatures an average of 10 degrees cooler than in the Valley.
Founded in 1924 by Colonel William Boyce Thompson as Arizona's first nonprofit research institution, the arboretum sits on 372 acres of Arizona Upland Sonoran Desert. It is home to 4,025 taxa, more than 20,000 different plants and three nationally accredited collections. The collections include plants from the United States, Mexico, Australia, Madagascar, India, China, Japan, Israel, South America, the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula.
In early May, you can expect to see prickly pears (Opuntia sp.) blooming in all colors of the rainbow except indigo, and the pale-yellow blooms of the foothill palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla). You’ll also see the native buckhorn cholla (Cylindroputina acanthocarpa) in colors ranging from yellow to orange to deep red among the 105 acres of gardens. A favorite of hummingbirds, the Karoo Boer-bean trees (Schotia afra) with their bright red flowers and the ever-popular Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) with its giant white blooms with yellow centers are quite the show.
You can also catch the rose blooms in the Heritage Rose Garden and Wallace Rose Garden before the intense summer heat sets in. In mid to late May, the large white flowers of the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) located throughout the arboretum will be blooming, and the ironwoods (Olneya tesota) will be spectacular with their mauve flowers.
During your visit, be sure to stop in at the 3,600-square-foot Smith Building, built in 1925, situated along the main trail. This building houses the newly renovated Smith Greenhouses that feature cacti and other succulents native to the Eastern Hemisphere in the East House, and those native to the Western Hemisphere in the West House. Many of the species housed in the greenhouses are unusual or rare.
Tiered succulent fountains in each house pay homage to the tiered fountains at the historical Picket Post House, the mansion and former winter residence of founder William Boyce Thompson, which can be seen in the distance on the hill overlooking the arboretum.
Named an Important Bird Area, Boyce Thompson Arboretum and the adjacent Arnett and Queen Creeks are known for spectacular birding opportunities. A flock of turkey vultures is often seen circling the skies of the arboretum in May, and the less ominous northern cardinal, Anna's Hummingbird, and red-winged blackbirds are regularly spotted along the trails. More than 275 species of birds have been observed at the arboretum over the years.
Plan to spend at least two-and-a-half hours wandering the trails. If you are looking for more structure to your day or are short on time, sign up for a one-hour docent-led Arboretum Discovery Tour that is free with the cost of admission.
While visiting the arboretum, bring a refillable water bottle and sunscreen. Closed-toed shoes are recommended. Well-behaved dogs on 6 foot or shorter leashes are welcome. The arboretum has plenty of shaded areas and benches to rest and a picnic area with tables to enjoy a picnic lunch. Trails are unpaved, but many trails are accessible to wheelchairs and easy to navigate.
Sharon Elliott is the director of marketing and communications for Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
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