April Showers Bring ‘May’ Expansions

Wilbur D. May Arboretum Proves Itself A Reno Gem

Reno has grown to be a mecca for the outdoorsy. Between its accessible riverwalk, its unique locale just below mountainous world-class skiing, and curated spaces such as the Wilbur D. May Arboretum & Botanical Garden… us fresh air seekers, we’ve got it made.

And with Earth Day right around the hedges on April 22nd, it’s a perfect time to turn an eye towards sustainability and the environment around.

History Preserved In Plants


The May Arboretum, best described as a “living plant museum,” was established in 1985 alongside Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. The arboretum is now home to over 4,600 native and adaptive plant species (including three endangered plant species).   

The arboretum is thoughtfully located in a transitional zone between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert, which makes it perfectly suited to live out its mission of providing education, research, conservation, and ultimately demonstrating how newly introduced plant species and native plants grow in a high desert environment.

Wilbur D. May, whom the Arboretum is named after, exemplified those goals as he was adventurous, well-traveled, and valued the preservation of culture. The arboretum preserves history (and life) through plants.

“The May Arboretum, like many public gardens, is an expression of the local cultural heritage and social norm. It’s multifaceted and serves our community of all ages throughout the season… It is also a place for solace, reflection, and peace. The May Arboretum provides all of this and many more intangibles, and what is so unique about it, it is easily accessible,” says Bill Carlos, a previous May Arboretum horticulturist.

Future State

While the entire land space is nearly 23 acres, about 13 acres are currently developed. And just like Reno, the May Arboretum has major growth plans.

For starters, there are plans to have a new visitor’s center, holding expanded educational classes and seminars. Other additions down the pike include several new demonstration gardens including a two-acre cactus and succulent garden (which will help teach low-water use landscaping), as well as a children’s garden. While an exact time has not been released for when these gardens will be open to the public (many uncontrollables are weather, time, and maintenance), they are definitely in development.

“This year we are set to plant 15 new varieties of trees to help represent different [and diverse] regions of Earth right here in the Washoe County Community,” explains Washoe County Horticulturalist Luke Sorenson.

Throughout the spring months, the May Arboretum has an array of special events, including gardening classes against a backdrop of over 35,000 flower bulbs from crocus to tulips and daffodils, which can be viewed all over the park. You can also mark your calendar for their annual plant sale in May, which includes many varieties of native plants at discounted rates.

Keep an eye out online or stop by the arboretum to learn more about specific programming in honor of Earth Day. The experts will help lead events throughout the week such as bird walks, nature as therapy walks, tours, tree planting, and other activities for all ages. At the May Arboretum, everyone is encouraged to foster their inner plant lover, as there are numerous benefits to a healthy flora.

“I got involved in horticulture because I come from a family of plant lovers,” says Sorensen. “From a young age, I tended the garden with my mother, cultivating flowers. I had a passion for plants and [I noticed] the beauty seemed endless. While I grew up in Nevada and I admire the native plants and conditions that we are blessed with, I continue to gain knowledge from other arboretums across the world to help preserve and spread the wealth of plants.”

Wilbur D. May Arboretum & Botanical Garden

Within Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, 1595 N. Sierra St.

(775) 823-6501

“The May Arboretum [is] the perfect place to impact the most amount of people and open their eyes to nature.”

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