In Miami, there is no shortage of beaches or bougainvillea. These familiar colors erupt from the sea and the soil to keep our world interesting and full of life. If it’s a true tropical landscape that you desire though, you’ll have to head a few minutes southwest of downtown to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. This 83-acre garden houses one of the largest and most diverse collections of tropical plants in the United States.
Founded in 1938 by Colonial Robert H. Montgomery, the garden is named after the noted botanist and plant explorer, David Fairchild. Dr. Fairchild is highly regarded for having directed the collection and importation of over 200,000 plant species into the United State during his tenure at the Department of Agriculture. Crops such as soybeans, mangoes, and pistachios were all initially imported by Dr. Fairchild as well as a number of varieties of cotton, rice, and wheat.
During the construction of the garden, Dr. Fairchild personally collected plants from across the globe to create the garden’s initial collection. He traveled to all of the continents except Antartica to add to the garden’s diversity. Today, you can still see some of Dr. Fairchild’s original acquisitions, including a giant African baobab tree.
To explore the garden, visitors can take a free 45-minute tram tour which embarks on the hour and provides a thorough overview of the garden’s history and collection. The tram provides a great way to see the expansive garden in its entirety, leaving visitors with the ability to slowly walk through those areas that they find most interesting.
As you work your way through the garden, be sure to note how it walks the line between the wilderness of the tropics and the order of a formal garden. Landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, who is often referred to as the “Pioneer of Tropical Landscape Architecture,” leads visitors from vista to vista, slowly walking them through the outdoor rooms of this beautiful place. Phillips introduces buildings a piece at a time, using a slight view of a roof-line, or the introduction of a row of flower-laden pergolas, to entice visitors forward towards their next destination.
Some of the buildings and collections that should not be missed are the Tropical Flowering Tree Arboretum, the Whitman Tropical Fruit Pavilion, and the Tropical Plant Conservatory and Rare Plant House. What most visitors come to see, however, is the Montgomery Palmetum, one of the largest collections of palms and cycads in the western hemisphere. Some of the specimens of cycads in the collection have been found to live on earth as long 280-million years ago. Another favorite attraction is the Wings of the Tropics exhibit, a butterfly house featuring a diverse selection of butterflies and tropical plants.
For more information on Fairchild Tropical Garden, visit their website at www.fairchildgarden.org. For more to do around Coral Gables see our reviews of the Venetian Pool, Miracle Mile, and the Biltmore Miami.