Look around our extended community and you are immersed in a tropical paradise. Palm trees, fruit trees, parrots, and more. Earlier this year, I joined a tour of one of several local attractions that capitalize on this aspect of our environment.
The Fruit & Spice Park is a 37-acre county park preserved in the historic Redland* community in the south of of the county. This area had been renowned for agriculture – tomatoes, strawberries, string beans, and more. Now, houses and apartment complexes are planted and grown there and developers plans to encroach on the precious Everglades sitting on the western borders are continually stymied.
*Note: Here, the community is Redland. In California, it’s Redlands. Word police in action.
More than 500 varieties of fruits, herbs, spices and nuts and other commercially important plant specimens from around the world; 150 varieties of mangos; 70 varieties of bamboo; 40 varieties of bananas; 15 varieties of jackfruit trees; and numerous other edibles are grown at the park. There’s also an herb and vegetable garden on the grounds.
This unique park was the creation of Mary Calkins Heinlein, the daughter of pioneer sub-tropical farmers and her passion for fruits and gardens in South Florida. Her goal was to showcase the region and its rich agricultural environment. In 1935, the first 18 acres were purchased by the county for the park. By 1944, plans were put into place to develop Heinlein’s vision. The park is open to the public and hosts festivals and other events most of the year.
Fruit and Spice Park is not the only plant preserve in the area. Fairchild Tropical Garden, established in 1938, was named for Dr. David Fairchild, a botanist (or plant explorer) and educator who created the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Foreign Seed and Plan Production when he was 22. Fairchild traveled the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries collecting hundreds of important plants including mangoes, dates, bamboos, and the flowering cherry trees in Washington, D.C.
In total, he brought about 30,000 different species of plants to the country. More than 6,000 plant species are found in the park’s 83-acre site. Many plants still growing in the Garden were collected by Dr. Fairchild, including a giant African baobab tree by the Gate House. Not only is Fairchild a showcase of tropical plants, and art too, it is a major research center.
Both Fruit and Spice and Fairchild were designed by William Lyman Philips, a noted landscape architect and planner.
Robert Montgomery and his wife created the Montgomery Botanical Center on their nearby 120-acre estate in 1959. They are known as the founders of Fairchild Tropical Garden. The Montgomery Center is the largest private collection of palms and cycads* in the world. The goal of the Center is to build and research the tropical plant collections.
*Cycads or ” fossils” are remnants of plants that were abundant millions of years ago in the Jurassic Period. One variety, Zamia pumila (Coontie), was used by indigenous people of the region to produce a “flour” that was part of their subsistence. Early settlers established short-lived cootie “factories.” It is one of the plants from which arrowroot is derived.
The Kampong* is another (much smaller, with nine lush acres) botanical garden nestled in the community. It was the home and horticultural experimentation site of Dr. David Fairchild. Growing on the grounds of the Kampong are cultivars of mangos, avocados, bananas, carambola (starfruit) and other exotic flora that Fairchild brought from around the world to experiment with their suitability to our tropical climate.
*Kampong is a Malaysian word for village.