Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Imagine a place where a person could indulge their passion for plants, learn about the latest scientific breakthroughs in agriculture, study drought-tolerant landscape design and deepen their appreciation for all things botanical, all in one convenient location. Fortunately, such a place exists at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a quick one hour’s drive east of Phoenix on U.S. Highway 60. With a primary emphasis on education for the general public, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is one of the preeminent botanical campuses in the western United States.

Bench at Boyce Thompson ArboretumRich with mining stock accumulated after World War I, William Boyce Thompson came to the Arizona desert in the early 1920s and through a 400-acre land swap with the United States Forest Service, was able to secure property among the Sonoran Desert lowlands surrounding the town of Superior, Arizona. It was here the former ambassador to the Bolshevik empire found his greatest passion and began constructing a winter home, Picketpost House.

Soon, the Arboretum was founded, and construction began on the Smith Interpretative Center, an educational center built in 1925 from locally quarried stone. It was here visitors to the Arboretum were welcomed into a world of rare desert cacti, lovingly groomed roses and native arid landscape.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum Bird of Prey

Even though a new visitor’s center was built many years later, the Smith Interpretative Center remains a centerpiece to the Arboretum and continues to showcase succulents from around the world in its two greenhouses.

The Arboretum itself consists of several geographic and botanical zones, each designed to highlight a different element in the plant world.


Eucalyptus Forest

Boasting some of the oldest eucalyptus trees in the United States, the forest is found at the end of the trail leading from Magma Ridge and lends diversity to the landscape matched only by the colorful blooms of the desert flowers against the red rocks and purple hue of the mountains that surround the Arboretum.

Demonstration Garden

Perhaps the most unique of the distinct botanical zones, the Demonstration Garden brings together both landscape and hardscape into artful collections of patios, arbors, pathways, water elements and decorative rock formations.

Red Leaves at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

This concept garden displays the best of the desert plants in real life designs that can easily be recreated once visitors go back home. Guests can also learn about plant selection, how to design their own sites, and what to do when their desert soil appears inhospitable to even the most basic of plants. Whether backyard enthusiast or professional landscaper, a stop at the Demonstration Garden will inspire and excite your creative design senses.

Magma Ridge

A hike along the Queen Creek Canyon, Magma Ridge offers visitors spectacular views of the riparian rehabilitation area of Queen Creek, the deep and lush canyon beyond, as well as close up views of Picketpost House, the historic home of Colonel Thompson and his family.

Heritage Rose Garden

Although found deep in the Sonoran Desert, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum boasts one of the most beautiful collections of Heritage roses, Old Garden roses and Antique roses in the west. No matter which time of year you visit, the blooms fill the air with fragrant reminders of their resilience and beauty. If famous roses are your passion, the Heritage Rose Garden is also home to descendants of the original Tombstone Rose and the Yellow Rose of Texas.

Ayer Lake

This man-man reservoir is a botanical zone in itself, offering refuge to two endangered fish, the Gila Topminnow and the Desert Pupfish. In addition to supplying the Arboretum with all of its irrigation water, Ayer Lake also provides an aquatic oasis for many different migratory waterfowl, which can be observed from one of two ramadas gracing the shores of the lake.

Lake at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Herb Garden

A culinary masterpiece, the Herb Garden displays several species of native herbs as well as the popular European plants. There are separate areas for the different types of herbs found there, such as herbs used in the healing arts, herbs dedicated to cooking and herbs that have repellent properties and can be used to combat an insect infestation.

Cactus Garden

Of course no Arboretum in the desert of Arizona would be complete without a cactus garden and the garden at Boyce Thompson is no exception. It contains succulents from every region of the Western Hemisphere and contains several trails that wind across three scenic acres. Visitors can stroll the forest at their leisure, taking in the brilliant colors of the desert sky against a rich landscape of succulent blooms.

Getting to Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Located at Milepost #223 on Highway 60 (Superstition Freeway), the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is three miles west of Superior and just an hour from downtown Phoenix along the Superstition Freeway. Operating hours vary according to season and the Arboretum is opened every day except December 25th. Visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum website for summer and winter hours. Nominal fees apply with children under five admitted free. The Arboretum is consistently voted “Best Day Trip” in polls of residents from both Phoenix Az and Tucson Az.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum
37615 U.S. Highway 60
Superior, AZ 85273


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