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The High Plains Arboretum

Cheyenne, Wyoming is home to one of our region’s greatest horticultural treasures: the former USDA Horticultural Field Station now known as the USDA High Plains Grasslands Research Station. The station opened in 1929 with a mission to find fruit and vegetable crops adaptable to our local climatic conditions. USDA plant explorers traveled the colder regions of the globe searching for edibles that would be adaptable to the harsh conditions of the high plains, and they sent plants back to the station for evaluation. Along the way, a collection of ornamental woody plants was assembled as well.

Trees originating in Chinese Buddhist temples and Himalayan mountainsides are not uncommon in the collection, while other plants, such as the Arnold, the Morton and Kew were obtained from arboretums and botanic gardens. Still others were purchased from private sources like Frank Skinner's, Dropmore Nursery in Manitoba, Weston Nursery in Massachusetts and Wayside Garden, then of Mentor, Ohio.

In 1974, the mission of the station shifted to grasslands research and reclamation. Even though the research and funding for woody plants was discontinued, over 200 species of hardy trees and shrubs have survived on natural precipitation and with minimal care for over 30 years. There is now a new organization, headed by the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and the City of Cheyenne Urban Forestry Department, whose goal it is to maintain and improve the site, and develop it into the High Plains Arboretum.

Wide-ranging examples of the station’s surviving, adaptable plants include such gems as: the original 'Cheyenne' Privet, which was found near Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1934; an interesting Crabapple with fragrant 2" blossoms collected in 1927 from a Buddhist Temple in China; a large Euonymus bungeanus named 'Pink Lady' originally found in 1924 growing out of a stone wall in the Forbidden City in modern-day Beijing, China; and many more too numerous to mention.

Plant Select, a cooperative program between Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens, identifies plants with outstanding ornamental appeal that are environmentally adapted to the Rocky Mountain and High Plains regions, and is considering several selections from the station for future introduction. These include Blue Velvet Honeysuckle (Lonicera korolkowii floribunda 'Blue Velvet'), English Red Jacket Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa 'Red Jacket'), Des Fontaines Cherry (Prunus x fontanesiana), and the Sutherland Columnar Siberian Peashrub (Caragana arborescens 'Sutherland'), which measures 25 feet tall and six feet across.

In fact, many plants well known in the nursery trade today—including Cheyenne Privet, Oakleaf Mountain Ash, and Highland Cottonwood—originated at the horticultural field station in Cheyenne, and Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery is proud to have propagated some of the strongest Western Heritage adaptables from this collection. Some are being offered for sale while others are under further evaluation.

The Cheyenne station, in the eyes of all plant lovers (including Toni Hollingsworth, formerly of Bailey’s Nursery), is truly a national treasure. Sadly, over the past 60 years, many of the trees and shrubs are growing old and over half of the collection has perished with the passage of time. Fortunately, we as Nursery professionals have the ability to save the "gems" in this collection before they are gone forever. Take the time to visit the station and see if you can find a "diamond in the rough".

Read more about this at BNET and Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

The High Plains Arboretum
The High Plains Arboretum

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