About Us

The Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden is a living plant museum with over 4,600 native and adaptive plant species on display on 13 of its 23 total acres. It is located in a transitional zone between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert.

Location is what makes the May Arboretum special: this area has only 120 days of growing season, and at an elevation of 4,600 feet, the garden's daily temperature can fluctuate 40 degrees or more in a single day! Additionally, the garden averages only 4 to 8 inches of precipitation annually. Only a few plants can survive these conditions without additional care and maintenance.

The Wilbur D. May Arboretum & Botanical Garden is a member of the American Public Garden Association (APGA) and a certified Level II Arboretum through the Arb Net Program administered by the Morton Arboretum of Registered Arboreta, Lisle, IL.

The Arboretum’s mission is educationresearchconservation, and to demonstrate how introduced plant species and native plants grow in a high desert environment.


Here at the May Arboretum, we believe in having diverse programming to meet the needs of the community and educators. We offer educational programs that visitors can utilize during any visit, like the Naturalist Program, or specialty programs for families on the weekends, such as Wilbur’s Explorer Pack. To meet the varying age groups in the community, we have Little Sprouts for ages 2-5, and thanks to dedicated volunteers, Good Nature! Walking Tours for Older Adults (50 +). Teachers can expect hands on learning experiences during Discover the Arboretum Station Tour as students explore watershed health, native plants, ancient trees and much more. No matter the age or interest, there is something to learn at the May Arboretum.


Due to the high desert environment, any introduced plant species is an informal research project in the field of phenology. Phenology is the study of plant or animal species in relation to the climate. Since the first planting in 1984-1985, native and introduced plants have flourished at the May Arboretum due to the dedicated work of staff and volunteers. In the fall of 2017, a 3,500 sq. ft. greenhouse was completed that will support our efforts in the research of native and introduced plants in the Great Basin region.


The May Arboretum goal is to grow colonies of northern Nevada's rare, threatened and endangered plant species. With the completion of the greenhouse in 2017, a new era of conservation is taking place. Now equipped with the resources to grow plants on site, we utilize sustainable growing practices and are able to meet the needs of the May Arboretum and the community of northern Nevada for years to come.

Garden Improvement Updates

The final stages for the fencing project were completed in 2017. The first three stages were funded by a generous donation from the May Foundation and the final phase, Phase IV, by an anonymous donor. The primary purpose of the fence is to protect and preserve the collection's diversity, assets, trees, gardens and water features for future generations. Arboretum gates will remain open during regular park hours.

This past season many of our mature oak and maple trees were pruned, and invasive tree species were removed, thanks to May Foundation support. "Burke Garden" received funding from the May Arboretum Society for a complete upgrade and will be available for reservations in 2020. The Arboretum is keeping with its cottage theme by adding circular pavers and steps, renovated turf areas and irrigation and a water feature. The Arboretum also received funding to install a 300 foot retaining wall on the north side of the arboretum in a effort to stop erosion and reduce non-point source pollution. Two other projects, irrigation upgrades will be completed in 2020 thanks to the May Arboretum Society Endowment fund.

The Arboretum added a new 3,500 sq. ft. greenhouse to its facility in the fall of 2017. Funding was made possible by Washoe County and a generous donation from the Garden Gate Club. The greenhouse will be used by the Arboretum, Regional Parks, and the May Arboretum Society.

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ArbNet Level II