Thousands of cacti and plants find a new home at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
By Olivia Munson
An unparalleled collection of nearly 6,000 cacti and succulents will be unveiled at the end of March at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior. Part of the private Scottsdale garden of geneticist and philanthropist H.B. Wallace, who passed away in 2005, the desert-friendly flora were donated to the arboretum in late 2014. “If we hadn’t taken the plants and they had not been moved, all of them would have been lost,” says executive director Lynne Nemeth.
Wallace began cultivating his desert garden in 1987 after retiring to the Valley. A geneticist who made his fortune is egg and poultry production, he was enamored with cacti and succulents and began collecting rare specimens, many from as far away as Central America, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and Madagascar. Although a foundation was set up to help ensure the preservation and safekeeping of the plants following Wallace’s death in 2005, the recession negatively affected the garden’s funding, placing the property in peril. “The minute we heard about the garden, we knew we had to do something about it,” Nemeth recalls.
The arboretum put together a proposal to transport the Wallace Garden to its location. The project took two years to prepare, three months to execute and two years to cultivate each piece of flora. “Because of the nature of the plants, many of them needed special bracing to prepare for transport,” recalls Rob Kater, co-owner of Native Resources International, a plant relocation specialist that oversaw the task. The large-scale transfer, which required 100 semitruck trips, included 2,200 boxed plants, some as tall as 25 feet, as well as 4,000 smaller specimens.
The collection includes 1,650 taxa, of which more than 50% are new to the arboretum. Of the aloes, boojum trees, thorny African bushes, crested saguaros and more, 205 of the species are considered threatened, their classifications ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered. Nemeth believes the acquisition will catapult Boyce Thompson into the realm of top-tier arboretums in the U.S.
Commemorating the new 13-acre Wallace Desert Garden, Boyce Thompson will be offering four days of parties and previews beginning March 21, with a public grand opening on March 28. For tickets and additional information, visit btarboretum.org.