The Arboretum at Flagstaff
Flagstaff, Arizona
September 2010

Getting to this arboretum is quite an adventure. The directions say that it is 2.8 miles down an unpaved road, but the washboard surface makes it seem a lot further. And I didn’t find it the scenic drive that I thought it would be. The road goes through Ponderosa Pine forest but most of it looks like it has been heavily logged. It is probably a beautiful drive in the summer when wildflowers are blooming but in September everything had an abandoned look.

Flagstaff Arboretum entrance

The entrance is well marked and I was glad to see the welcoming sign. This 200-acre arboretum was established in 1981 on land that was originally a working ranch. It features 2,500 species of plants native to, or adapted to, the harsh conditions of the Colorado Plateau - an arid, high elevation area of the American southwest. Much of the site is natural Ponderosa Pine forest and meadows but there are a number of developed garden areas. Everything has a rustic appearance, maintaining the feel of the old ranch. The Visitor Center looks like an old stone cabin but is well-maintained and very functional.

Flagstaff Arboretum Visitor Center

Immediately behind the visitor center is a courtyard garden and an herb garden. Neither was at its best this time of year, but both are well laid out with attractive paving, raised beds and a small water feature.

Flagstaff Arboretum courtyard garden

Much of the landscape had a beautiful autumn look, like the brown grasses and yellow aspens surrounding the pond

Arboretum at Flagstaff pond

A docent pointed out the difference in color and texture of bark on the ponderosa pines. She said they get yellower with age, attaining the yellow of the trunk on the left at about 95 years of age. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable docent can add a lot to the visitor experience and having her point out such small tidbits of information was great.

Ponderosa Pine trunkPonderosa Pine trunkPonderosa Pine trunk

The Arboretum has a number of nice interpretive signs. Although the Penstemon garden was pretty barren, the sign was still educational and made me want to come back when the Penstemon are in bloom.

Penstemon Sign

The garden is active in conservation work and is a participating institution of the national organization, the Center for Plant Conservation. In the small greenhouse you can see several of their conservation plants being propagated. However, I didn’t see a single bit of interpretive material about the conservation program. A small garden that does so much conservation work should be tooting its own horn for every visitor. It’s a real missed opportunity.

The mountains provide a very scenic backdrop for the Arboretum. There are lots of beautiful vistas, with views of meadows, forests and mountains.

Arboretum at Flagstaff scenic view

There is a small Cactus House filled almost entirely with Prickly Pear cactus. I know the climate is harsh but there are lots of high elevation cacti. They should be able to grow a wider variety of types, even in an unheated greenhouse.

Cactus House

The highlight of my visit was the Raptor Show. Seeing owls, hawks and eagles up close and ‘in action’ never ceases to astound me. I’d like to visit again in the summer and hope I’d be astounded by the beauty of the plants. Signage tells of a butterfly garden, a water conservation garden and the Penstemon garden. All were barren at this time of year. In summer, an abundance of flowers would combine with the interpretive signage and the beautiful vistas to make a wonderful visit.

To see more photographs from the Arboretum at Flagstaff, click
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here to visit the website of the Arboretum at Flagstaff.

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