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, Robert Montgomery and David 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.
I have to go to the nursery in a few minutes to work with one of my volunteers. We propagate plants all year long for our three annual plant sales. Before I leave, I want to urge everyone to visit Fairchild during the next six months. This time of the year is cool, sunny and a great time to explore the habitat areas found in FTBG's lowlands. Our pine rockland area is full of plants native to this critically imperiled habitat. Our pines, palmettos, wildflowers, wild basil, American beautyberry plantings create a habitat both wonderful to observe and to take in the fragrance of the pines. Our Michaux Bahamas collection, plot 164, is an amazing open hammock habitat of wild collected plants from the many Bahama islands. Many of the plants were collected in the 1960's and 70's and are excellent representatives of the tough, wind resistant, drought resistant plants that grow on the islands off our shores.
All of the sculptures in the exhibition are on loan from the Mark di Suvero Collection. Here is Gnarly by di Suvero:
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.
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