History of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

David Fairchild
David Fairchild (1869-1954) was one of the greatest plant explorers of all time. At the age of 22, he created the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture, and for the next 37 years, he traveled the world in search of plants of potential use to the American people. His far-reaching travels brought into cultivation in the U.S. many important plants, including mangos, alfalfa, nectarines, dates, horseradish, bamboos and flowering cherries.

Dr. Fairchild retired to Miami in 1935, sharing his vast knowledge and experience in tropical plants with Col. Robert H. Montgomery, who founded the botanical garden and named it to honor his friend. Many plants still growing in the Garden were collected and planted by Dr. Fairchild, including a giant African baobab tree not far from the entrance. In 1940 Dr. Fairchild embarked on the first official collecting expedition for FTBG, sailing from the Philippines to the Indonesian archipelago on a special oceangoing Chinese junk called the Cheng Ho. The voyage provided many of the early botanical specimens before the outbreak of World War II forced the explorers to return home.

Robert H. Montgomery

Robert H. Montgomery (1872-1953) was an accountant, attorney and successful businessman with a passion for plant collecting. With the guidance of David Fairchild, he pursued the dream of creating a botanical garden in Miami, the one place in the continental U.S. where tropical plants could grow outdoors year-round. Opened to the public in 1938, Fairchild was established on an 83-acre site south of Miami purchased by Col. Montgomery and later deeded in large part to Miami-Dade County. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was designed by renowned landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, member of the Frederick Law Olmsted partnership, and the leading landscape designer in South Florida during the 1930s.

The first 15 years saw the construction of its primary buildings and landscape features, including the Montgomery Palmetum, Bailey Palm Glade, Allee and Overlook, Vine Pergola, Amphitheatre, Gate House, Montgomery Library and Museum, 11 lakes, stone terracing walls, irrigation systems, Moos Sunken Garden, and Nell Montgomery Garden House auditorium. Later buildings included the Davis House (1953), Hawkes Laboratory (1960), Robbins Plant Science Building (1967), Rare Plant House (1968), Corbin Education Building (1972), and various additions over the years. A comprehensive master plan developed in 1993 provides a framework for continued growth and development. The Rare Plant House, now called Windows to the Tropics Conservatory, was totally renovated in 1995, as was the Gate House, a locally-designated historic landmark.

Assembling and maintaining an outstanding botanical collection has been a fundamental part of the institution's existence since 1938. Indeed, even before Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was created, Montgomery and Fairchild dedicated themselves to collecting, documenting and studying tropical and subtropical plants from around the world, especially the palms and cycads which are still the most significant Fairchild collections. Other major contributors to the Fairchild collections include Elmer D. Merrill, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Harold Moore, Jr., John Dransfield, Alwyn Gentry, Richard Howard, Stanley Kiem, and John Popenoe, director from 1963 to 1989. In 1984, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden became a member of the Center for Plant Conservation, a consortium of botanic gardens involved in preservation of endangered U.S. flora. Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Fairchild plant collecting efforts have intensified dramatically, as scientists seek not only to restore the FTBG collections, but also to identify and save endangered plants throughout the tropics.

Research and Education
Since the 1930s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has emphasized the expansion of plant knowledge through publications, education programs, and research in taxonomy, floristics, conservation biology and ethno-botany. In recent years, Fairchild botanical and environmental research programs have been funded by grants from the MacArthur Foundation, National Science Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and many others. Since 1938, FTBG has distributed plants and seeds both to fellow scientists and to members of the local community. Fairchild palms, cycads, ornamentals and fruit trees have been a source of new varieties for commercial growers and home gardeners alike.

Fairchild education programs have also grown steadily, particularly in recent years. In early years, postgraduate research formed the largest educational component, but for the past two decades, additional programs have been offered to children and non-experts in plant science. Today, Fairchild is the region's leading source of environmental, horticultural and botanical education, with more than 150 courses offered annually, along with a wide range of community outreach programs.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1981, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is an active member of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the Center for Plant Conservation, the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, and many other botanical, horticultural and conservation organizations. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is also a leading regional cultural institution and favorite visitor destination for both tourists and local residents.

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