A Visit to Florida's Fairchild Garden
I recently visited the world-famous Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden again, one of the best in the world. The Garden is extremely interesting in its own right - tropical forest, desert vegetation, lots of tropical fruit trees, and an abundance of palm varieties; but it also illustrates what a top flight Botanic Garden, and more particularly a tropical one, can be; and what it can do for a community in terms of jobs and image. The Fairchild Garden is one of the primary attractions for visitors to south Florida.
The Garden is located on 83 acres of generally shallow, alkaline, and sandy soil near Coral Gables, just south Miami, Florida. The rainfall is about 55 inches and the natural vegetation is high pine forest. I took a Tram tour to get an overview, and then walked through the Garden to visit the highlights. It was an unforgettable horticultural and aesthetic experience.
In the Garden was a wealth of tropical fruit trees; the orchid house had some of the most beautiful orchids; the tropical forest was luxuriant; there was an extensive palm collection; one of the largest in the world; then there was a really exotic collection of desert plants, and a gorgeous butterfly garden. These were interspersed with beautiful vistas of extensive and well manicured lawns, where iguanas basked in the sun. There were several large ponds with ducks, herons and other water birds. Overall, it was quite an exciting experience to see the tropics in North America.
In the tropical fruit section, there were numerous species of tropical fruit trees. Some were grown in an open area and others in an arboretum. In the open area, about half an acre in extent, the fruit trees included mango, banana, avocado, guava, papaya, pineapple, and jackfruit, all healthy looking and many bearing good fruit. The Garden is the locale for Fairchild's annual International Mango Festival. In the arboretum were fruit trees requiring more humidity, including coffee, cocoa, mangosteen, durian and langsat. Next door was the orchid house with a wide variety of the most exquisite orchids. And housed in the same building were several other plants of the humid tropics, among which were different Heliconias and the Chaconia of Trinidad.
The tropical forest was quite a surprise. It certainly was not the giant gormmier forest one sees in the Dominica rain forest. Nonetheless, it was a genuine, humid, luxuriant, tropical forest, with trees 60 feet or more, interspersed with thick undergrowth of tropical palms, ferns, and lianas, through which ran a gurgling brook. With south Florida rainfall of only 55 inches, a natural tropical rain forest requiring more than 100 inches of rain was impossible. However, these humid tropical conditions were achieved by simply piping water up into the canopy and spraying it like rain. Based on the size of the trees and the thickness of the undergrowth, it was clear that this "tropical forest" had been lovingly cared for many years.
The desert plants exhibit was also very interesting. The exhibit consisted of one area with plants of the Madagascar Spiny Forest and another with plants of the South American Atacarma desert. Together, these exhibits covered an area of about a third of an acre, and had several species of plants endemic to these two desert regions. The desert was "luxuriant" with thorny trees and bushes with thick, water-filled stems and leaves which grow in the few waterhole areas of these desert regions. These plants included an unusual and wonderful array of various species of cacti, agaves and euphorbias, typical of the Spiny Forest of Madagascar where rainfall is a miserly 10-20 inches per year, and the Atacarma, where it is even less. And to replicate the effect of such little rainfall, these desert exhibits were established on a shallow sand and pebble mixture which allowed much of the 55 inches of local annual rainfall to drain off.
The butterfly garden was unique. There were butterflies of all sizes and colors flitting about in an area, perhaps a quarter acre, of low bushes and shrubs bearing lots of multicolored flowers and leaves. These shrubs were specially selected for their butterfly attracting character. This included plants for nectar, plants of different heights and growth habits for varied microclimates, with assorted flower colors and a mix of shapes and sizes to accommodate different butterflies, and plants with different flowering times that compliment each other throughout the year. Apart from the share beauty of the multicolored concentration of butterflies and flowers in one small area, it was fascinating to see the excitement that the butterfly garden generated in children and parents alike.
The Fairchild Garden also stages outdoor art exhibits and annual fruit and agricultural product festivals. Currently on exhibit were the monumental outdoor sculptures of world-renowned Columbian artist Fernando Botero, the brilliant art of Dale Chihuly, and the pop sculptures of artist Roy Lichtenstein. Then there are the popular annual international orchid, mango and chocolate festivals, and several other exhibits and functions, which attract thousands of visitors annually.
The history of the Garden and its management are rather interesting also. The Garden was developed in the late 1930s by Dr David Fairchild, a world renowned USDA botanist, and Robert Montgomery, a wealthy philanthropist, with the help of William Phillip, a famous landscape architect. The original objective was the systematic collection and introduction of new tropical and sub-tropical plants into the US; and the expansion of plant knowledge through publications, education and research. As the strict collection and introduction role declined in importance, and the increasing significance of worldwide environmental protection emerged, the role of conservation became more prominent. Today, the focus has evolved to conservation, research and education - in Florida, the US and the tropics. Fairchild now works on conservation and wildlife management with over 20 partners worldwide, including Haiti, Columbia, Italy and China. It is working to ensure that throughout the world, the next generation and those to come enjoy the bounty of the plant resources we so often take for granted.
In the area of management, in addition to a topflight staff of horticulturalists, biologists, educators and professional botanic garden managers, the 83 acre Fairchild Garden could not be run without a large group of volunteers, some 500 or more. They include volunteer tour guides, shop assistants, visitor/information services, educators, horticulturalists, archivists, librarians, membership services, volunteer services and fund raising. They all clearly take a personal and enthusiastic interest in their individual responsibilities and in the Garden as a whole. And this, as mentioned above, is in addition to the paid professional staff.
Other facilities at the Garden include classrooms for Fairchild's educational outreach programs, two cafes and a restaurant, and wedding reception facilities. Click here for a Photo Tour of the Garden; use the slideshow for larger photos. For more details on the Fairchild Garden itself, click here; and for information on Fairchild's International Mango Festival and its extensive mango collection, click here and see events in July.
DAAS Gardens WebSite Coordinator
Preface - How it Began
Introduction to Website
A Brief History
Plan of Gardens
Trees, Shrubs, Birds:
Selected Trees and Shrubs
Florida's Fairchild Garden
Birds of the Gardens
Three Virtual Tours
Panoramic Views Today
Early Panoramic Views
Hurricane David's Ravages
Reports and Documents
Treasures of the Cathedral
Diaspora Policy Paper
Contact Site Coordinator