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.  Our area has only 120 days of a 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 environmental educational programming to meet the needs of the community. We currently offer Little Sprouts for ages 2-5 every Tuesday at 10am, as well as Story Time in conjunction with the Washoe County Library System, Thursdays at 10am during the summer. Field trips and tours may be offered upon request. No matter the age or interest, there is something to learn at the May Arboretum. Contact our Environmental Educator, Hannah Hill, for more information: hhill@washoecounty.gov.


Due to the high desert environment, any introduced plant species is treated as an informal research project in the field of phenology.  Phenology is the study of plant or animal species in relation to the climate. All new introductions are accession and mapped and tracked through their life. 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 constructed to support our work for conservation, beautification and re-vegetation.


The May Arboretum's future goals are to grow colonies of northern Nevada's rare, threatened and endangered plant species. Equipped with the resources to grow plants on site, we hope to begin growing sustainable plants to meet the changing needs of the May Arboretum and the community of northern Nevada. 

Garden Improvement Updates

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 is available for reservations. 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 from the May Arboretum Society 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 were completed this past winter (2020) thanks again to the May Arboretum Society Endowment fund. The Arboretum replaced a small retaining wall near Evans Creek Bridge and Plaza Garden received a paver upgrade thanks to the May Foundation. Along with the new pavers, Washoe County replaced the large walk way leading to Plaza Garden. In addition Phase II of the garden (Kleiner Oak Grove) received a new asphalt walkway thanks to Washoe County. 


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ArbNet Level II