On August 17th, graduate students working towards an M.S. degree in Public Horticulture within the context of the exceptional laboratory of Longwood Gardens and the fine academic setting of the University of Delaware visited the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. As part of the students’ North America Experience, the Class of 2010 and Program Director, Dr. Robert Lyons embarked on a journey to discover the horticultural wonders of the Sunshine State. Longwood Gardens was founded by Pierre S. Du Pont (1870-1954) an industrialist, conservationist, farmer, designer, impresario, and philanthropist and is located 12 miles from Wilmington, Delaware with 1,050 acres that include 20 indoor and 20 outdoor gardens.
The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden was an important destination in the Sunshine State for the students since it is the only frost-free tropical forest garden in the continental United States and the largest portion of its plant collection is endemic to the Florida Keys. The Garden currently includes 49 of the 118 endemic (native to and restricted to a particular geographical region) species listed as endangered or threatened in the Florida Keys. As Public Horticulture students, the group wanted to learn more about how the Garden is run on a daily basis, how it showcases its collection and preserves and protects important germplasm in its collection and how it also works as an important educational tool teaching over 3,000 school-age children annually in the education program.
The group was guided on a tour of the 15-acre Garden by docents Beryn and Rick Harty, who shared their extensive knowledge of the Garden’s history and plant collections. The Docent Program is now in its second year and helps to educated visitors on the importance of the Garden as a sanctuary for an endangered ecosystem. Beryn and Rick informed the group that the Garden has now collected 72% of all shrubs and 80% of all trees native to the Keys. The group toured the 5 different sections of the
Garden which include the Visitors Center and Courtyard with waterfall, two fresh water ponds, the Butterfly Garden, the Cuban Palm Collection and the ‘Western Loop’ which is virtually undisturbed tropical forest.
After the tour, the group met with board members Richard Keefe and Carolann Sharkey who shared their exciting plans for expanding the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. The newest project that was begun a year ago that the group observed was the new pond which is built on top of an aquifer and showcases native fresh water flora and fauna. Another new construction project is a LEED certified visitor center, for which the Garden will begin a capital campaign this year. A few other projects that are on the horizon include: a scenic by-way, an internship program, more educational tours, a Miami blue butterfly garden and a Cuban forest garden.
Thanks to dedicated and passionate volunteers, staff, and board members. The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden located on Stock Island, is a must see destination when in the Florida Keys. The Garden is open daily 10am-4pm. Guided tours are available by advance request by called 305-296-1504.
“If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need.” – Cicero