Cactus Talk

Whenever I visit one of Arizona's many natural resources, I always find myself surprised. So, this is what Arizona looks like. I had forgotten. Out there beyond the cracked asphalt, dusty concrete and tinted glass is the reason people started coming here in the first place -- a vibrant and varied desert ecology that still manages to thrive under the careful protection of a few dedicated custodians.

One such place is the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum. Founded in 1925 and dedicated to instilling in visitors an appreciation for desert plants, the Arboretum is nestled in the Superstition Mountains about 40 miles east of Mesa on Highway 60. The nonprofit Arboretum, cooperatively run by Arizona State Parks, University of Arizona and the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum Inc., is an unforgettable garden spot where you can not only see, but also learn about, our Sonoran Desert ecology.

During the month of February, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum will be continuing its Two O'clock Lecture Series. Every Wednesday through Sunday in February, horticulture specialists, ornithologists and staff zoologists will lecture on topics from agaves to zinnias.

Wednesdays in February you can learn about the "Birds of the Arboretum." The Arboretum is a perfect habitat for a variety of Arizona's winged residents and their migrating cousins. On Thursdays you can see "Winter Color for Desert Gardens," an exploration of what gardeners love about Arizona -- the 365-day growing season. Even in the chill of January and February, there is always something blooming at the Arboretum. Come and learn how you can add a little winter color to your garden.

On Fridays you can see some "Arboretum Wildlife." Staff and volunteers show off some of the beautiful and strange creatures that make Arizona their home. Saturdays are reserved for "Flowers on Cacti and Other Succulents." Sound fun? Well, did you know that agaves only bloom once in their whole lives? Or that many cactus flowers only bloom once a year, and in the middle of the night? You can learn about these and other interesting cactus facts at this informative lecture and slide show.

Sundays are a special treat for gardeners who would like to add a little wildlife to their private slice of Arizona: "Plants That Attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies" will instruct the home enthusiast in how to bring these beautiful little visitors to their own backyard sanctuary, and give you a chance to wander through the Arboretum's own Hummingbird and Butterfly Gardens.

Whether you're an Arizona native, a winter visitor or a recent transplant to this desert clime, the place to learn about and enjoy the thriving ecology of the Sonoran Desert is the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. All lectures are free with regular admission.

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James Ward