Fairchild Tropical Garden
One of the foremost botanic gardens in the world,
Fairchild is a Mecca for palm enthusiasts. Here, Florida born Mike
Horwitz whets your appetite.
by Mike Horwitz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chamaerops No.37, Winter Edition 2000
Picture: Entrance to Fairchild Tropical Gardens
with Wodyetia bifurcata.
Fairchild Tropical Garden (FTG): I drove by it regularly
growing up in Miami, but never did appreciate it. Gardens? Boring.
Palm trees? Boring; well, except for coconut palms which were good
for climbing and for their coconuts. Palmettos were simply a nuisance,
and even more so when your schools were named after them (Palmetto
Elementary, Palmetto Junior High School). How ones ideas change
with maturity! Now I would put FTG on the top of my list of places
to visit in Miami, especially for those interested in palms, cycads,
and basically all species of exotic tropical and sub-tropical vegetation.
So when we visited Florida this past Spring, we naturally made FTG
our first trip.
The timing was good as the Spring Show and Sale of
the South Florida Chapter of the International Palm Society was
being held at FTG, featuring the palms of Cuba. This was an opportunity
to view and purchase from 600 species and varieties of palms and
cycads, from a total of 27 vendors, both professional and amateur.
According to the S. Florida Chapter brochure, when they first started
having these sales in 1981, there were 150 species available; quite
a contrast to today.
Unfortunately there are logistical problems in taking
plants back to the UK, but this should not lessen the pleasure of
window shopping. Do be warned though, that you will
end up walking away with a real feeling of envy for what people
living in much warmer climates then ours can grow outside, as well
as the growth rates they can achieve. I did learn, however, that
Trachycarpus does not grow very well in the South Florida heat,
so be happy for this one advantage. If you have not worked out the
logistics of taking plants back to the UK, you can still take home
a souvenir from your visit. Seeds are being given out by the South
Florida Chapter, to encourage distribution of palms. The seeds available
will depend on what is fresh at the time. I came back with some
Another attraction is the Montgomery Garden House,
where you can view the original water colour paintings of Lee Adams,
painted in the 1960s (reference: Principles, 39(1), 1995,
42-45). Reproductions (size 20"x30") of three of these
paintings are available to purchase. I have enjoyed looking at them
in our dining room for several years now. There are also other prints
available along with every book imaginable on palms and cycads in
the FTG book shop.
After finishing with the Show and Sale there is the
rest of FTG to see, which in itself is enough of a reason to visit.
I will not attempt to describe in detail FTG, instead let me quote
from their brochure: you will find the renowned collection
of palms, cycads and other tropical plants which provides a living
laboratory for scientists, and the opportunity of discovery for
everyone. That is no exaggeration. FTG is 83 acres in size
and was established in 1938 by Robert H. Montgomery and Dr. David
Fairchild. As far as their collection of palms goes, the Montgomery
Palmetum is a world renowned collection including some 900 species,
many of which are endangered.
One of my favorite spots in FTG to visit is the conservatory
called Windows to the Tropics where plants which may
not be hardy enough to withstand the relatively cool Miami winters
are kept. What I find particularly interesting is the collection
of bromeliads and numerous Red Sealing Wax palms (Cyrtostachys renda)
with their outstanding red trucks.
Of course there are palms throughout FTG, with the
largest concentration in the Montgomery Palmetum. Follow the Palm
Walk through this area to view the palms. In addition you
are encouraged to leave the path and walk on the grass for a close-up
view. Also in this same area is the Sunken Garden, a
natural hole in the limestone containing a small pond and waterfalla
nice place to cool off on a hot day. I have a vested interest in
the garden, as my Father built the waterfall.
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit FTG very hard. Looking
at the gardens today, at least as a visitor, you would never know
such an event took place. The one exception is a small location
which was left in the state it was in after the Hurricane passed
through, to allow it to recover naturally. It is worth a look just
to see the size of the massive oak tree that was toppled during
The South Florida Chapter holds a palm sale in November
as well as March, both excellent times of year to visit Florida
(see the FTG web page for exact dates). On that note, let me tell
you how to get to FTG via the scenic route. From Miami Beach or
Miami International Airport find I95 south. Take Exit No 2 to S.W.
8th/US 41, turn left in an easterly direction (if you turn right
to the west, you will end up in Little Havana and if you want to
try Cuban food this is the place to go). Turn right/south onto Brickel
Ave/US 1, which is lined in part by royal poinsettia trees, which
are stunning in the Spring when in bloom. Pass the entrance to Rickenbacker
Causeway leading to Key Biscayne (if time allows a drive along the
causeway gives excellent views of the city and Biscayne Bay). Turn
left onto South Bay Shore Drive past the Planetarium and Vizcaya.
Continue on until you reach the area called Coconut Grove, one of
the older parts of Miami where you will have nice views of the bay
and the many sailboats on it. When I was a teenager, Coconut Grove
was the hippy hangout. The hippies have grown up and, in the process,
found the meaning of money. As such, now you will find rather expensive
marinas, condos, shops, and restaurants. As you would expect, there
will be many coconut palms along the route, species which are resilient
to lethal yellowing, which destroyed the original tall varieties.
When you come to the centre of the Grove you veer
right onto MacFarland Lane and then shortly after a sharp left on
to Main Highway, which takes you through the commercial centre of
the Grove. Stay on Main Highway through some of the wealthy residential
areas lush in sub-tropical vegetation, till you reach Douglas Road,
then turn left, then a right onto Ingraham Drive. At the intersection
of Ingraham Drive and Le Juene Road turn left, and after a short
distance you will reach a traffic circle (round-a-about, the only
one I know of in Miami); take the exit to Old Cutler Road. Continue
along a road which is shaded much of the way by giant Baynon Trees
with their multiple trunks/roots, until reaching Old Culter Road,
which will eventually lead up to FTG. In my opinion, that is the
best drive through Miami.
You can visit FTG via Internet at www.ftg.org.
For further information you can also contact me at: email@example.com.
25-01-20 - 09:21GMT
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of Cultivated Palms
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