New visitors to Boyce Thompson Arboretum are often surprised at how “wild” our park can be. Besides over 2000 species of plants growing here, we are also surrounded by the wide open desert. On a normal day you can see a snake under a tree or a deer on a hill or butterflies flitting around flowers. Just last week, a visitor saw a coatimundi traipsing along the rocks near the High Trail. Coyotes, bobcats, fox (pictured), and bighorn sheep also make occasional appearances here. And, as many of you know, the numbers of birds that pass through the Arboretum attract birdwatchers from around the world. (Nearly 300 species of birds have been sighted here over the years!) Too, a wide array of reptiles and insects make the park their home. It’s as if the entire fauna of the Sonoran Desert has been distilled through this narrow band along Picketpost Mountain and, in a way, it has.
There are three main reasons for the lively diversity of animal life you find at the Arboretum:
First we are a riparian area – our land bisected by Queen Creek, which has water in it much of the year. That’s why we have a canyon naturally lush with cottonwood and velvet ash trees. (In local canyons you will also find sycamores, Arizona walnuts, and, once in a while, catalpa trees and mulberry.)
The second reason is because we are located in a transition zone between high and low desert. We sit right above the Phoenix valley and below the Pinal Mountain highlands. Here we have native jojoba and saguaro cacti. But just five mile east, above the sleepy town of Superior, you will find yourself in manzanita and pinyon pine country.
And, finally, even though we have been in a drought these last few years, this portion of Arizona averages around 17” of rain annually. Compare that with Tucson’s 12” and Phoenix’s 8”. For a desert, we are reasonably wet.
For the person interested in plants and wildlife, the BTA presents a unique opportunity to experience a truly living desert landscape. We are a zoo without cages; a place where nature moves unbounded. One thing we aren’t is tame.