Tucked away in the woods of West Tisbury, the Polly Hill Arboretum has served as a not-so-secret garden since 1958 — officially opening as a public garden in 1998 when founder botanist Polly Hill was still alive.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary as a public garden, the arboretum is offering a Twenty Iconic Trees Tour, a series of walking tours that teaches visitors about some of the most intriguing trees on the property.

Big leaf magnolia flower. — Ray Ewing

Executive director Tim Boland selected the trees to be included on the tours, keeping four different factors in mind.

“Seasonality, connection to our history, connection to people, and our mission,” Mr. Boland said during a recent walk through the arboretum.

For a property that spans 72 acres and includes over 437 different species, picking 20 to showcase may seem like a difficult undertaking. But Mr. Boland said it only took him an hour to decide which species to incorporate, a testament to his 16 years at the arboretum.

Two of the four tours have already been held. Each one includes five trees, with the next tour taking place on Thursday, July 12 at 5:30 p.m.

One of the iconic trees is the David Hybrid Magnolia, dubbed the Magnolia David for the arboretum’s co-founder Dr. David H. Smith.

Big leaf from aptly-named big leaf magnolia. — Ray Ewing

“It’s a magnolia that turned into a spontaneous hybrid,” Mr. Boland explained. “Because Polly brought trees from all over the world together, this is the first record of the two species hybridizing." The two species hail from North America and China respectively, producing a lush hybrid with leaves as large as dinner plates.

Next to the Magnolia David is the Quercus Velutina, or Black Oak tree. At age 150, it is the oldest standing tree in the arboretum.

“We all know about oaks,” Mr. Boland said with a laugh. “Mostly because we’ve been inhaling their pollen for the past few weeks now.”

Black oaks are one of the most dominant species on the Island, but this oak in particular stands out. A small wooden face has been pegged into the side of the trunk, its exuberant smile greeting visitors as they walk by.

The mottled bark of the Japanese stewartia. — Ray Ewing

“We’re a heavy duty science place, but we should be able to have fun,” Mr. Boland said.

Whimsy can be found on the trunks and in branches of some of the other iconic trees as well. Take the two stuffed monkeys perched in the spiky branches of the Araucaria araucana or Monkey-puzzle tree on the far side of the arboretum. Mr. Boland said the Monkey-puzzle is the second most photographed tree on the property, falling right behind the Julian Big-leaf Magnolia.

“This is absolutely the tree,” Mr. Boland said, lowering one of Julian’s branches to show off its impressive flowers, the six petals all a pristine white. “Although the flowers do attract beetles.”

He said the arboretum refrains from using pesticides or chemicals on any of their flora as they strive to preserve Polly Hill’s Darwinian philosophy.

“Polly believed in survival of the fittest,” Mr. Boland said. “Our approach is minimalistic. If we have to use anything it’s always organic biological controls.”

Many of the trees are already equipped to adapt to their surroundings. The Tulip Poplar, or Tulip Tree, serves as a perfect example. As the tallest tree in the arboretum (102 feet) it has the capacity to withstand violent storms and Vineyard winds.

“When a tree is rattled by wind it gets wounded,” Mr. Boland explained. “So within its interior it sends out hormones to use to get wider in it’s girth.”

Tulip poplar flower. — Ray Ewing

This science combined with its height earned the Tulip Tree’s recognition as an icon. It’s facts like this that Mr. Boland says he hopes visitors enjoy on the tours.

“Before the arboretum opened to the public, people would call Polly and say ‘Can I please come to your garden?’ So she would drive them around in her golf cart. Sharing. It was a big part of what she did.”

In addition to the Iconic Trees tours, there will be a community garden party on July 28 to celebrate the arboretum’s 20th anniversary, complete with food, live music and dancing, all beneath the canopy of iconic trees.

The Polly Hill Arboretum is located at 809 State Road in West Tisbury. For a full list of the 20 iconic trees, along with more information about the 20th year celebrations, visit pollyhillarboretum.org

More photos of the iconic trees.