Did You Know: Arboretum Is The Oldest State Public Garden

February 28, 2014

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
A pulque agave at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

If there was ever an award for the world’s best backyard, the place we are taking you to next would have to win it. It is in the desert near the Picketpost Mountain outside of Superior, and today it has become a public attraction. It's Arizona’s most noteworthy arboretum.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum was founded in 1924. It is home to thousands of plants, trees and animals. Did You Know the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest public garden and one of the four oldest west of the Mississippi?

“Because of our terrain, we’re 2400 feet, we can actually grow a broader variety of plants because we have some warm spots and we have some cold spots," said Mark Siegwarth, the arboretum director.

He took me on a tour of the land.

“So compared to like parts of Phoenix where it’s all the same, we have all these nooks and cranies where we can see if the different plants will weather better there or not," said Siegwarth.

There are more than 2600 types of plants here from all over the world. It is like a global forest adventure. The trail goes through an Australian Desert collection, considered one of the largest assortments of plants from down under in North America.

The walk continues through a cactus garden, a eucalyptus grove and into South American and African exhibits.

It is not uncommon to see people walking around here with binoculars. They are birdwatchers.

The audubon has designated this an Important Bird Area because of the more than 230 species that live or migrate through here. During my visit a cardinal swooped over my head.

But, it is the plants and trees that attract visitors, including the thin and spiny Baja California boojum tree and the largest red gum eucalyptus tree in the U.S. Siegworth said it is about about 100 feet tall.

“This was planted here in 1926. I have pictures of it when it was just a sapling here," said Siegworth. "And so,we call it Mr. Big, and yes that is a big tree.”

The arboretum was originally William Boyce Thompson’s backyard. The Montana native owned two copper mining companies in Globe and Superior. He loved it here so much that in 1924 he built his winter home on a hill overlooking nearby Queen Creek.

To spruce up the area he hired two University of Arizona plant scientists. Because of the variety of trees and plants, it quickly became a research facility. In 1927, the Boyce Thompson Southwest Arboretum became the first non-profit research agency in Arizona.

Since 1976, The Boyce Thompson Arboretum has been an Arizona State Park and part of the U of A College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The latest plan to assure its reputation of as a serene desert oasis involves moving the adjacent Route 60 to the other side of the hill.