Prickly Pear classes at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Learn about prickly pear fruit this month at Boyce Thompson Arboretum!

Learn about prickly pear fruit this month at Boyce Thompson Arboretum!

Vivid magenta fruit of the prickly pear cactus can be much more than just a colorful margarita mixer; creative cooks use the juicy ingredient in everything from smoothies to barbecue sauce. But how do you harvest these abundant desert fruits without your hands becoming a virtual porcupine of painful cactus spines and glochids? Set your GPS for Boyce Thompson Arboretum near the historic copper-mining town of Superior and plan to spend an August morning at this scenic botanical garden less than one hour’s drive from Sun Lakes. Volunteers teach a series of classes showing how to pick, process, preserve and prepare prickly pears. The class repeats twice this month (August 9 and August 17) with guest instructor “Chef Eric” Terri Naddy of Tall Order Catering in Chandler, offering her unique approach to culinary uses for cactus fruit and pads. Prolific East Valley author Jean Groen is expert in the arts of cactus cuisine, and teaches the Labor Day Monday seasonal final on September 1. Jean is also a featured presenter in the nearby town of Superior on August 23 when the local chamber hosts its third annual Prickly Pear Festival.

Many have tried to make prickly pear jelly, only to watch in dismay as their hot summer labor dissolves into an un-gelled puddle of sweet-tasting, fuchsia-colored goo. These informal outdoor classes are included with BTA daily admission of $10; no pre-registration required. Jean and other coaches will demonstrate how to pick, process and prepare the colorful fruit of prickly pear cacti during harvest season – and with innovative prickly pear snacks shared when the class ends. All ages are welcome – and at the conclusion of the one-hour class you can sample Prickly Pear Cactus fruit snacks (last year featured smoothies made of fresh cactus fruit, yogurt, bananas, pineapple and ice). During summer months the daily hours are 6:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. continuing through Labor Day weekend in September. The Arboretum offers a variety of weekend guided nature walks too; included with admission of $10 for adults, $5 for ages 5-12. Read complete details at

August Events:

August 2 – Dragonfly Walk Saturday at 8:30 a.m. (repeats September 6)

ASU researcher Joanna Henry and Mesa photographer and dragonfly enthusiast Roger Racut guides visitors to see, photograph and learn about odonate species ranging from Blue-eyed Darner to Flame Smimmer, Mexican Amberwing and more.

August 9 – Learn Your Lizards Guided Walk at 8:00 a.m.; also on August 30-31.

Casa Grande naturalist and outdoor educator ‘Wild Man Phil’ Rakoci returns August 9 to lead the Saturday lizard walk, then August 30-31 brings a back to back weekend of lizard walks: Saturday, August 30 with Wild Man Phil, and then Sunday, August 31 with Tucson author Larry Jones. Daily hours return to the fall-winter schedule in September and the Lizard Walk start time moves to 8:30 a.m. for the season finale September 13 with Wild Man Phil.

August 16 – Plants of the Bible Land Guided Walk at 8:00 a.m., then 8:30 a.m. September 20.

The Sinai Desert lies roughly at the same latitude as our own Sonoran Desert; many of the same plants common in the Middle East thrive in our Arizona climate and can be seen here at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Join Arboretum volunteers on a guided tour to learn about palms, pomegranates, figs, olives and other plants of the Bible Land. Wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat; carry water. The tour, conducted at a leisurely pace, lasts about 90 minutes and proceeds along wheelchair-accessible paths.

August 17 – Tree Tour with Jeff Payne at 8:00 a.m.

So, just what is an Arboretum? BTA staffer and Certified Arborist Jeff Payne leads this walk where visitors learn the answer to that often-posed question during a relaxed and leisurely guided tour through the forested areas of the Arboretum. Join Jeff for a chance to learn about the Arboretum’s collection of oak and olive trees, native hackberry and mesquite.

August 19 – Book Club Tuesday from 8:00-9:30 a.m.

This summer BTA’s Book Club has a guest coordinator, Gold Canyon author Kathleen O’Dwyer McDonald; and a new meeting date and time, too – the third Tuesday of the month from 8:00-9:30 a.m. in the Smith Building’s air-conditioned Lecture Room. During summer months the Arboretum opens at 6:00 a.m.; enjoy an hour or two walking the gardens while the morning is cool; then join a lively book club discussion from 8:00-9:30 a.m. To inquire about the August title or RSVP that you plan to attend the book club meeting, please e-mail [email protected]

August 23 – Geology Walking Tour at 8:00 a.m.

ASU Prof. Steve Semken guides this once a month walk, a chance to see rocks and volcanic formations along our main trail on a guided tour that compresses almost two billion years of geologic history into just over one educational hour! Learn about Pinal schist, the volcanic origins of Picket Post Mountain and the Apache Leap tuff. The tour repeats September 27 with professional geologist Scott McFadden as guide.

August 23 – Butterfly Walk at 8:30 a.m.

Marceline VandeWater leads a butterfly walk – a chance to see, photograph and learn about colorful butterfly species ranging from Empress Leilia to Queen, Spring Azure and more on a relaxed and slow-moving walk that explores our Hummingbird-Butterfly Garden, Demonstration Garden and Children’s Garden collections.

August 24 – Edible, Medicinal Desert Plants Walk at 8:00 a.m., then September 28 at 8:30 a.m.

Explore the Curandero Trail on this guided tour, a one hour walk where ethno-botanists share their knowledge about the ways native plants have fed, healed and clothed Sonoran desert peoples for more than one thousand years. Please note: this tour explores the Curandero Trail, which has steep sections that are not suitable for visitors who use wheelchairs or walkers.

September 6 – Central Arizona Butterfly Association Annual Count from 8:00 a.m.-noon

Join volunteers from ‘CAZBA’ on this one day census of all the Queens, Sulphurs, Fritillaries and Checkerspots they can tally at the Arboretum. Read last year’s report at