Superior, AZ

Superior day trip: The Boyce Thompson Arboretum has plants galore and an upcoming brunch just for mom

Timothy Rawles

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One of the trails at Boyce Thompson ArboretumBoyce Thompson Arboretum

By Timothy Rawles / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Superior, AZ) The Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Arizona, is the oldest and largest botanical garden in the state. It was founded in 1924 by Col. William Boyce Thompson, who had a particular interest in plants and conservation.

The garden is currently open to the public and is a great weekend excursion for people interested in plants worldwide.

Thompson was inspired by his project after visiting the war-torn communities of Russia after the revolution in 1918. He witnessed mass starvation and famine, and with that, he decided to create a sanctuary dedicated to studying plants and their impact on society.

Smitten with the landscape around Superior, Arizona, Thompson built his winter home perched above Queen Creek called the Picket Post House. Four years later, he created the arboretum on 400 acres.

Today Boyce Thompson Arboretum is home to many species of plant life from all over the world. Some samples in the vast garden include selections from the deserts of Mexico, Australia, India, China, and Africa. It’s reported that there are 3,900 taxa and 19,000 plants within the 135 acres of gardens.

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A relaxing spot at the Boyce Thompson ArboretumBoyce Thompson Arboretum

The gardens are open seasonally, with tours starting in October and going through the end of April. Visitors are given a few options. From the Arboretum Discovery Tour, which spans 0.5 miles and takes about one hour, to the Edible Medicinal Tour, which features over 540 medicinal and edible plants, your experience is an educational hike through the great Sonoran Desert.

And if you love birds, the arboretum has been called the “most enchanting” in the state. There are 275 species recorded in the area, with 62 of those holding Special Conservation Status of Arizona.

In 2014, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum was offered an entire garden with plants collected by Henry B. Wallace, who passed away in 2005. His estate was no longer able to care for his massive collection. Luckily, the climate and soil were perfect, and Wallace’s garden was moved to the arboretum. It covers 13 acres with 1.5 miles of new trails, including a bridge over Queen Creek.

Children can also find a special place at the arboretum. There are dedicated sensory gardens, a whimsical sundial, and a maze.

Roses are also a big part of the experience. The Heritage Rose Garden contains heirloom roses popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. And then there’s the Wallace Rose Garden with 100 hybrid tea and floribunda roses.

Public knowledge of these plants, especially ones at risk of extinction, is essential to their survival. Encroaching developments, pollution, and even global warming are threatening their survival. The arboretum's work is only beginning with 9.8% of their collection under conservation concern.

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The plants at Boyce Thompson ArboretumBoyce Thompson Arboretum

“Healthy ecosystems depend on plant and animal species as their foundations,” they say on their website. “When a species becomes endangered, it signifies that the ecosystem is slowly falling apart. Each lost species triggers the loss of other species within its ecosystem. Humans depend on healthy ecosystems for our clean air, water, and food.”

Mother’s Day might be a great time to come out and see the conservatory. On May 8, the arboretum hosts a Mother’s Day “wellness brunch” complete with prickly pear mimosas. Add-on activities include yoga, a garden tour, and chakra crystal therapy. You can purchase tickets here.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum is open Monday through Sunday (October through April) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For details on tours and other special events, check out their website.

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Timothy Rawles has been a journalist for over 20 years. He has written for global publications in San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix. His favorite stories are features, interviews, entertainment news, and local stories.

San Tan Valley, AZ
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