Monday, March 17, 2014

Fairchild Gardens – Miami Florida

Given the crazy traffic in South Florida, we try to minimize the time wasted on the road and avoid retracing routes on subsequent days.  So, for our visits and for the sake of our sanity, Dawn Marie groups our attractions, museums, etc. to maximize our time for exploration.

On this day we’d started with a tour of the Deering Estate.  After we went out for lunch we drove to the nearby Fairchild Gardens…

This is the Garden House near the entrance to Fairchild Gardens.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was named after one of the most famous ‘plant explorers’ in history, David Fairchild. (1869-1954)  Fairchild was also known as an educator and a renowned scientist.  At only 22 years of age, he created the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture!  For the next 37 years, he traveled the world in search of plants that had potential use for the USA.  Fairchild brought back hundreds of important plants, including mangos, alfalfa, nectarines, dates, cotton, bamboos, soybeans, pistachios, key varieties of rice and cotton as well as the flowering cherry trees that grace Washington D.C.

This is the back of the Garden House… Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is an 83-acre botanic garden, with extensive collections of rare tropical plants including palms, cycads, flowering trees and vines.  The Fairchild Garden is located in metropolitan Miami, just south of Coral Gables, Florida.

Amazingly, David Fairchild was responsible for the introduction of more than 200,000 exotic plants and varieties of established crops into the United States.  The economic value of his work must be incalculable!  Dr. Fairchild retired to Miami in 1935 and joined a group of passionate plant collectors and horticulturists including environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, (more about her later), and landscape architect William Lyman Phillips.  This core group collaborated to bring the idea of a one of a kind botanic garden to life, and in 1938, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden opened to the public.

This is a map…or plan of the Fairchild Garden.  If you enlarge this picture you will get a better idea of the complexity, planning and effort that has been put into this botanic garden.  We arrived a bit late in the afternoon and the woman who sold us our tickets gave us some advice re: our route, so as to maximize our visit before the Garden closed for the evening…

How do you like this photo as a mood establishing start to our visit to Fairchild Garden!  Not too bad…very peaceful and tropical…

You might have noted I'd mentioned that landscape architect William Lyman Phillips was a member of the group that was at the center of the development of Fairchild Garden.  He was a member of the Frederick Law Olmsted partnership and Phillips designed the Garden.  Most of Phillips’ 50 year career was spent with the Olmsted brothers’ organization.  For more information about David Phillips, go to

I know little to nothing about plants and flowers.  However I learned that this is 'Blue Tango', which is a cultivar (man-made hybrid) of the genus Aechmea. It has prolific blooms and it is widely grown in South Florida. 

Blue Tango belongs to the plant family, Bromeliaceae, which encompasses over 2,700 species plus thousands of hybrids.  With one exception, all are native to the Americas.  They grow from the southern part of the United States through the Americas to Chile and Argentina.  The famous and eerily beautiful…but tree-killing…Spanish moss is a bromeliad.  So is our most well-known bromeliad…the pineapple! 

This glass sculpture by Dale Chiluly was one of several scattered throughout the Garden.  In addition to Chiluly, since 2003 Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has sponsored a series of exhibits by artists, including Patricia Van Dalen, Yayoi Kusama, Fernando Botero, Cameron Gainer, Roy Lichtenstein, Franz West, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Michele Oka Doner, Mark Dion, Joshua Levine, as well as Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne.  Even I recognize a couple of these names…

Dale Chihuly is an American glass sculptor and entrepreneur. His works are considered unique to the field of blown glass, "moving it into the realm of large-scale sculpture," In the past 3 or 4 years Laurie and I have encountered his work in 3 or 4 different settings.  To learn more about Dale Chiluly and his many exhibits in the USA and elsewhere, go to

A large variety of orchids are on display throughout the Garden.  There is a good reason for it!  Fairchild Gardens is the home of the American Orchid Society!  To learn more about this organization, go to  

Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants, with between 21,950 and 26,049 currently accepted species.  The number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species!  The family encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants.  The dried seed pods of one orchid genus, Vanilla, are of course commercially important as flavoring in baking, perfume manufacture and aromatherapy.

Of course, a banana tree in flower had to be a part of the exhibit.  Several varieties of bananas are produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants.  In some countries, bananas used for cooking may be called plantains.  The fruit is variable in size, color and firmness, but is usually elongated and curved, with soft flesh rich in starch covered with a rind which may be green, yellow, red, purple, or brown when ripe.  As you can see above, the fruits grow in clusters hanging from the top of the plant. 

Bananas are grown in at least 107 countries, and in addition to their fruit, to a lesser extent the plants are used to make fiber, banana wine and banana beer.  In 2013 bananas were fourth among the main world food crops (after rice, wheat, and maize) in financial value.

In 2011, India led the world in banana production, producing around 20% of the worldwide crop.  Uganda was the next largest producer with around 8% of the worldwide crop.  Bananas and plantains constitute a major staple food crop for millions of people in developing countries. In most tropical countries, green (unripe) bananas are used for cooking.  Bananas are cooked in ways that are similar to potatoes…fried, boiled, baked, or chipped and have similar taste and texture when served. One banana provides about the same calories as one potato.

These are Bottle Palms or Palmiste Gargoulette.  They are native to Round Island, Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.  Bottle Palms have a large swollen trunk. It’s a myth that the trunk is how the palm stores water.  Bottle palms are very cold sensitive and are killed if they are at 32°F or colder for any appreciable length of time.  While habitat destruction may destroy the last remaining palms in the wild, the survival of the species is assured due to its wide spread planting throughout the tropics and subtropics as a specimen plant.

This has always been one of my favorite trees.  It a baobab!  The baobab is found in the savannas of African and India, mostly around the equator.  It can grow up to 85 feet tall and they can live for several thousand years.  The baobab is leafless for nine months of the year.  The tree looks like it has been picked out of the ground and stuffed back in upside-down.  The baobab looks like it does for an excellent reason.  In the wet months water is stored in its thick, corky, fire-resistant trunk for the 9 dry months ahead. 

The Arabian legend of the baobab is that "the devil plucked up the baobab, thrust its branches into the earth and left its roots in the air".  The baobab's bark, leaves, fruit, and trunk are all useful.  The bark of the baobab is used for cloth and rope, the leaves for condiments and medicines, while the fruit, called "monkey bread", is eaten. Sometimes people even live inside of the huge trunks, and ‘bush-babies’ live in the crown.

Don’t know what a bush-baby is?  Learn about them by clicking on the following link:

Both Laurie and I liked the look of these palm trees…but we didn’t learn what type they were and I wasn’t able to identify them on the Internet. 
Palm trees are flowering plants with around 2600 species are currently known.  Most of Palms are restricted to tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates.  They are among the best known and most extensively cultivated plant families.  Palms have been important to humans throughout much of history. 

In addition of using Palms in landscaping, these trees are used for their coconut products, oils, dates, palm syrup, ivory nuts, carnauba wax, rattan cane, raffia, palm wood, hearts of palm, vinegar, palm wine and dragon’s blood…a red resin used traditionally in medicine, varnish, and dyes.  Sago, a starch made from the pith of the trunk of the sago palm, is still a major staple food for lowland peoples of New Guinea and the Moluccas Islands.

Of course, we couldn’t take enough photos or document enough plants to fully describe the extent of these gardens and its thousands of plants. If you’re curious and would like to gain a better appreciation of the collection here at Fairchild Gardens, you can check out a list of the plantings.  Just go to

How do you like this naturalistic ‘recliner’?  It was created in 2007 by designer Hugo Franca from Brazil.  It’s made from Pequi wood and woven leather.

Nearly every part of the Pequi tree is usable for food, medical or construction purposes.  The tree's pulp is a very popular food in parts of Brazil, eaten by itself raw or prepared or used as an ingredient in cooking or to flavor beverages. Pequi with rice and chicken is especially popular among locals.  Edible pequi oil is extracted commercially.  The seeds can be roasted like peanuts and eaten as a rich snack and, in fact locally they are more popular than Brazil nuts.
But I digress… The works of Hugo França will be on display in the Garden until the end of May.   França uses reclaimed wood from felled, burned or dead trees to create functional designs.  He learned his unique woodworking techniques from the indigenous people of a Bahia jungle in northeastern Brazil.  To learn more about Hugo Franca, go to

Part of the Fairchild Garden includes an extensive display of cacti.  Why not?  Most cacti are from the tropics or sub-tropics.  They just happen to come from generally dry parts of the tropics. 

Most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought. Many live in extremely dry environments, even being found in the Atacama Desert (Chile), one of the driest places on earth. Cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. Most species of cacti have lost true leaves, retaining only spines, which are highly modified leaves. As well as defending against herbivores, spines help prevent water loss by reducing air flow close to the cactus and providing some shade.

Almost any fleshy cactus fruit is edible. The fruit of the saguaro has long been important to the indigenous peoples of northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States, including the Sonoran Desert.  It can be preserved by boiling to produce syrup and by drying. The syrup can also be fermented to produce an alcoholic drink.  One type of cactus is prepared and eaten like potatoes in upland Bolivia.  The Indian fig cactus, has long been an important source of food.  Many other cacti are deliberately cultivated for food.

This is the Salacca Magnifica from Borneo.  This impressive clustering palm has undivided leaves that are up to 20 feet long.  Clustering palms do not develop a trunk.  As you can see, it’s very spiny.  I can’t imagine trying to pass through a thicket of these plants!  They produce fruits in clusters at the base of the palm.  The fruit is commonly called ‘snake fruit’ due to their reddish-brown scaly skin. 

To learn more about palms and some of their many varieties, just go to

I have no idea what this plant is…but we both really liked the look and texture of it!
Just for your Information... Fairchild Gardens has over 45,000 members and over 1,200 volunteers on its membership rolls.

I really liked the strange looking fruit of this tree.  The ‘Cannonball Tree” is native to the rainforests of Central and South America.  ‘Couroupita guianensis’ grows up to 115 feet in height.  The flowers are ‘born’ in large bunches almost as long as the tree is high.  Some of these trees flower profusely, until the entire trunk is buried in flowers.  One tree can bear 1000 strongly scented flowers per day.

The large fruit, which is woody and very spherical, measures up to almost 10 inches wide and they give this species its common name…"cannonball tree". They sure do look like cannonballs! The fruit is fed to livestock such as pigs and domestic fowl.  In India the tree is sacred to Hindus, who believe its hooded flowers look like the nāga, and it is grown at Shiva temples.

FYI… A naga is the Sanskrit and Pāli word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very great snakespecifically the king cobra.
There are many medicinal uses for the plant.  Native Amazonians use extracts of several parts of the tree to treat hypertension, tumors, pain, and inflammation. It has been used to treat the common cold, stomachache, skin conditions and wounds, malaria, and toothache. Laboratory tests show that extracts of the plant have some antimicrobial activity.  The fruit pulp is rubbed on sick dogs to cure them of mange.

Near the end of our walk through Fairchild Garden, we came across this statue or image of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  If you read all the way through this rather long-winded posting, you may remember that she was part of the core group that was behind the creation of the Garden.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas lived to be 108 years old.  She was an American journalist, writer, feminist, and environmentalist known for her staunch defense of the Everglades.  She continuously fought against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development.  Her most influential work was the book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), which redefined the popular conception of the Everglades as a treasured river instead of a worthless swamp.  The book’s impact has been compared to that of Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring.   (1962). Her books, stories, and journalism career brought her influence in Miami, which she used to advance her causes.

To learn more about this remarkable woman, you can go to

The Fairchild Gardens are well worth the time and the price of admission!  While I’m not into plants per se, this is an interesting and beautiful place to explore.  Fairchild Gardens are located at 10901 Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables Florida.  Phone: 305-667-1651.  Website:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to share our mid-winter south Florida adventures.  The next 'non-food' blog will feature the ‘wildlife’ at Fairchild Gardens…

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Wow---what an incredible gardens.... We visit various botanical gardens in various places --but have never been to one in Florida. Love all of the Palms and Cacti's.... WOW--and that Baobab (and its history) is interesting. Love the sculptures and of course the orchids... What a marvelous place. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dear Dave, What a very beautiful place to visit. I would thoroughly enjoy a walk through these gardens. Simply beautiful. Blessings, Catherine

  3. I read your post on the Deering Estate and now on these gardens. Both posts are outstanding with great photos and such informative text. We talked about flying to Miami sometime as there are often some good flight sales from Atlanta but my husband does not drive and I get scared in a new large city. But now after looking at your two posts I have to re-evaluate as the places you visited are the type of places I love – historic homes and beautiful gardens. I had no idea there were so many types of orchids. Your posts on your Miami visit are a delight.

  4. What an incredible garden and I love the statue of Mrs. Douglas resting on her garden bench.

  5. David all these posts about Florida are making me want to visit. I have a girlfriend there who is trying to find me a ship to get from Italy to Florida... I hate flying!

  6. Beautiful pictures David, I love the statue lady sit down in the garden:)

  7. This post brought back such good memories of when we lived in Coral Gables. We designed a secret garden off our dining room and I had Blue Tango growing there…they are beautiful. I went to a fund raiser at Fairchild gardens when the Chiluly exhibit was in place but before it was open to the public. :)