There are few places in Pinal County that are quite as serene as Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Located just on the outskirts of Superior, past the Tonto National Forest, the arboretum is home to 19,000 different kinds of plants across 135 acres.
Plant collections come from across the globe, derived from places close to home like the United States and Mexico, but also from regions as far as China and the Mediterranean.
"We are Arizona's largest and oldest botanical garden," said Taylor Krassa, marketing coordinator. "Overall we have 393 acres and about 5 miles of trails. We have collections from about 13 different countries, representing areas in deserts from around the world."
Founded in 1924 by Col. William Boyce Thompson, the arboretum started with Thompson's dedication to conserving plant life following two trips to Russia before and after its civil war of 1918.
At the time of its establishment, the arboretum was the first nonprofit research organization in Arizona.
In the years and decades to follow, plenty of research would be conducted at the expansive botanical garden with scientists regularly arriving to stay overnight and spend their days studying the plants housed at the facility as early as 1925.
More than five decades later, the nonprofit — at the time operated through a partnership between the arboretum, Arizona State Parks and the University of Arizona — published its first issue of "Desert Plants Journal." The biannual publication spotlights research and information about desert plants, landscapes and the environment.
For area residents and visitors alike, the arboretum is one place where people can see many of those plants in-person.
"It's definitely one of the spots in Pinal County where you can see an array of flora and fauna," said Sharon Elliott, director of marketing and communication. "You might catch a glimpse of a northern cardinal or if you're lucky enough you might see a fox. We've even had some bobcat sightings. It's kind of like that one spot in Pinal County where you're gonna get that full, immersive Arizona nature experience."
Although open year-round, the arboretum operates on seasonal hours, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., beginning in May and continuing through September. Final admissions into the gardens end one hour before the facility closes. In addition, in June and July, the facility is closed on Tuesdays.
Elliott recommends that those planning a visit in the summer prepare accordingly for spending time outdoors. She suggests wearing sunscreen, having plenty of water and wearing attire and shoes that are comfortable and safe for walking and hiking outdoors.
Families can also enjoy their lunch at the arboretum's picnic area, though it's important to keep in mind that grilling or overnight camping are not allowed on the grounds.
Sitting at an elevation of about 2,431 feet, the arboretum may also just be the right reprieve for those looking for a break from excessively high summer temperatures.
"Typically we are about eight to 10 degrees cooler than the Valley depending on the day," said Elliott. "With the added shade from the gardens and our rock features and things like that, it can be a lot cooler to come and spend the day out here and get a break from the sun and the heat."
Among the most popular selections at the arboretum is the newest collection, the Wallace Desert Garden, which opened to the public in October 2020. The garden features thousands of international desert plants donated from the collection of Henry B. Wallace, first situated in Scottsdale.
In addition to the arid plants on display, the garden also features 1.5 miles of trails.
Beginning in June, the arboretum will also bring back Arb After Hours. The collaboration with the Superior Chamber of Commerce gives attendees an opportunity to enjoy a couple of drinks while spending time in some of the arboretum's gardens.
"There is just so much variety within the gardens because we are so expansive and we have so many different collections from different areas," said Krassa. "There is really something for everyone."
For more information about hours, admission and upcoming events visit: btarboretum.org/visit/.