A crisp Arizona morning at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

In the last couple of days, Arizona saw plenty of rain and snow. Flagstaff set a new snowfall record for Thursday, February 22. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum west of Tucson posted photos of snow-covered cactus, as did the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, east of Phoenix.

The weather was much less severe when I was at Boyce Thompson Arboretum (BTA) on December 30. It was  cold, as you can see below, but the sun was out and the air temperature had climbed into the high 40s by the time I left at noon: not as warm as during previous visits in December, but just fine for walking around. In fact, I was so into the plants and scenery all around me that I didn't have time to think of anything else.

You might say that I was in my element!

Right after I arrived at 9 am, I came across a few frozen puddles—evidence of a frosty night!

As had been the case during my December 31, 2015 visit, quite a few beds were covered with frost cloth. The protection isn't needed during the day, but it would be far too much work to uncover and re-cover everything on a daily basis. While I did poke under the frost cloth in multiple places, I didn't spend much time in the covered areas.

Somebody (not me, I swear) had uncovered with floriferous aloe

But even with the frost cloth in place, there was more than enough to see. 4,378 ft. Picketpost Mountain creates a stunning backdrop that looks like it was lifted straight out of a John Ford western.

The perfect spot to sit and take in the scenery. Unfortunately, it was still a tad too cold that early in the morning. If only I'd had an alpaca poncho!

I love the filigree created by the mesquite trees and yuccas

Opuntia macrocentra

The first of many golden barrels (Ferocactus grusonii) I would see 

Agave ovatifolia

Desert Garden perfection

Check out the construction of this bench—what a great way to incorporate a slab of rock!

Gum tree filigree against the morning sky in the Eucalyptus Forest, part of the large Australian section of the Arboretum (I explored it 2013—see here)

The Cactus and Succulent Garden is my favorite area of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The 300+ species are roughly grouped by region. This is South America:

Either this large cardon grande (Echinopsis terscheckii) was recently transplanted and needs to be supported until it's grown new roots, or it just needs a little help with its posture. It's also called the Argentine saguaro—easy to see why.

More Echinopsis terscheckii (or Trichocereus terscheckii as it used to be called)

The main trail in the Cactus and Succulent Garden has several side trails that let you explore the miniature canyons and beyond

The trails peter out past the rocks in the foreground but you can explore to your heart's content, even scramble up the saguaro-studded side of Picketpost Mountain

Right: Nolina matapensis

Look at the opuntia attached to the vertical rock face!

These are about the most beautiful Agave americana I've seen

In spite of the majestic scenery in the background, your eyes immediately go to the golden barrels, right?

What is there to say about perfection?

Can you tell how fond I am of this scene?

Enough with the golden barrels!

Alright, one more photo. But this is the last one!

I assume the succulent on the right is a nolina species, maybe even a small Nolina matapensis. Not all plants are labeled (always a Herculean task) but in general I have to give props to the BTA for being better about labeling than many other botanical gardens.

Agave gigantensis, named after the Sierra de la Giganta in Baja California Sur, not because it's a particularly gigantic species. We're now in the Baja California section of the Cactus and Succulent Garden.

The mighty Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris), one of the signature plants of Baja California

Agave ocahui var. ocahui

Totem pole cactus (Pachycereus schottii f. monstrosus), another signature plant of Baja California but also found elsewhere in northwestern Mexico and southern Arizona

A grove like this would be a real focal point in a garden—good thing I brought home two cuttings from Phoenix!

This is the regular (non-monstrose) form of Pachycereus schottii, generally known as senita cactus

Ayer Lake is a man-made reservoir which supplies the BTA with irrigation water. This is where I turned around and headed back towards the entrance. Someday I'll have enough time to explore the lesser-frequented area east of the lake.

Agave colorata

Agave chrysantha

Ferocactus robustus, forming beautifully dense clumps

Ferocactus histrix. The mother plant managed to produce offsets before dying.

Agave lophantha draping over this dry-stacked rock wall

Agave albomarginata

Hechtia stenopetala

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum (BTA) is located near the town of Superior, about 60 miles to the east of Phoenix. Founded in 1925, it’s Arizona’s oldest botanical garden and at 323 acres also it’s largest. Click here to read more about the history of this fascinating place.

If you love cactus and succulents but find the Desert Botanical Garden in Scottsdale too crowded, check out the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. It receives far fewer visitors and offers a lot more tranquility. Plus, it has a small but well-stocked nursery with very reasonable prices.


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  1. I can understand what pulls you to the Arizona desert on these winter trips. All your photos are fabulous as usual but I particularly liked the ones of Ayer Lake and the clump of Ferocactus. It was great to see the mature Agave colorata too as my small specimens are taking a long time to gain some girth.

  2. I hope to visit this garden in November this year, along with the Desert Botanical Garden. I'm going to 'binge view' all your posts on this so I can be prepared !

    1. You definitely should. BTA is a truly special place in the desert.

  3. Oh, Everytime you post pictures of this place it makes me want to visit it. I may have to follow your example of winter trips... It's not that far from home to this beautiful garden! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Fantastic photos! I still can’t believe it took me so long to finally visit, at least I made up for it by taking hundreds of photos and stretching my post(s) out to four.

    1. I know what you mean--I took way more photos on my first visit, too!

  5. What a treat to see all of these plants being used in a very natural manner. Your selfie does look otherworldly!

    1. Going back through your photos again and stopped at the Pachycereus schotti. Are those root hairs coming off?

    2. No, they're just spines--more like bristles than classic spines.

  6. Just stunning, Gerhard! Thank you so much for sharing these. Your photos are from 9am to noon, is that correct? They look like dawn. What a great winter visit.


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