SUPERIOR — Built in 1925, the greenhouses at Boyce Thompson Arboretum have long housed some of the park’s rarest and most delicate plant specimens. And now, at nearly 100 years old, they’re receiving their first makeover.

“Amazingly, the greenhouses have not undergone any renovations or updates since they were first built,” said Ann McKinnon, director of membership and development for Boyce Thompson Arboretum. “This project was too long deferred.”

The greenhouses, which flank the Smith Building, were among the first structures at Boyce Thompson Arboretum and are on the National Registry of Historic Places.

But over the years, conditions in the facilities deteriorated, prompting arboretum officials to close the greenhouses more than a year ago.

“Pieces of broken glass roof panes were falling down, and it was no longer safe for visitors,” McKinnon said. “We had to build a canopy over the plants to protect them before we could launch the project. Once it started, we moved the rare and endangered plants to another secure location and began carefully dismantling the roof, walls and beds.”

historic photo

At nearly 100 years old, the greenhouses at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum are undergoing their first renovation

While renovations are expected to take years, when they are complete, visitors and students will have a place to safely see rare endangered plants, she said.

The project will maintain the original design of the greenhouses while adding modern updates, including a redesigned interior that’s wheelchair-accessible, curving paths with retaining walls and contoured plant beds as well as seating.

The east greenhouse will be used to display plants found in the Eastern Hemisphere while the west greenhouse will house those from the Western Hemisphere.

Fountains of succulents will be featured in each greenhouse.

Educating the public and keeping valuable plants safe are the primary goals of the greenhouses.

Many of the facility’s succulent and cactus plants are native to warmer regions. They need to be heated in the winter and shaded in the summer.

Conserving them and keeping them safe is urgent “due to rising demand in the plant trade and the resultant increase in poaching,” an informational flyer about the greenhouses said.

“If some of these specimens were to be lost or stolen, we would be unable to replace them due to CITES regulations and decreasing numbers in the wild,” the flyer said.

The greenhouses keep the plants safe from climate change and extreme weather. The roof can be vented or closed to maintain optimum temperature and moisture levels.

Renovations are expected to be completed by the time the Boyce Thompson Arboretum celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2024.

“The greenhouses will be looking fabulous,” McKinnon said.

Greenhouse conceptual

At nearly 100 years old, the greenhouses at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum are undergoing their first renovation.

Work has already begun on the buildings but the facility hopes to raise $250,000 from donors to help fund the estimated $350,000 cost of the project.

The BTA board of directors has set aside $100,000 to match donations.

“In the case of larger pledges, donors can pay them off over up to three years. Our Board of Directors has generously put forward a matching gift challenge, dollar-for-dollar, on all new gifts. They hope it will inspire more people to give and help us reach our goal faster,” she said.

Donors who give $1,000 or more will be recognized on a donor wall inside the Smith Building.

McKinnon donated part of her recent federal stimulus check to the renovation project.

“To me, it feels great to be part of this important project. I donated early on but recently decided to use part of my stimulus check to contribute again and take advantage of the matching gift opportunity,” she said.

Donations may be made on the arboretum’s website,


Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at