History of the Member's Day Plant Sale

In 1939, Fairchild held the first Members' Plant Distribution. To quote David Fairchild from the first list of plants:

"In accordance with our policy to grow and distribute plants and palms which are more or less rare in this section, we have now on hand and ready for distribution a limited quantity of plants, a list of which is attached herewith. Small plants are ready for delivery to members only at the Garden, not more than a total of three plants are available for any one person."

That first distribution listed 37 species of palms and 31 species of trees, shrubs and vines. The first Members' Day took place in April 1939.

In 1943, Dr. Fairchild wrote,

"There are two ways of looking at this year's distribution of new plants from the Garden. One is that we are presenting to our members plants they cannot buy in nurseries anywhere - rare things they should want for their yards and patios. The other is that we are hunting homes for some young plants that must be taken care of this year or they may perish. Many of these plants come from remote localities in the Dutch East Indies now no longer open to collectors. Decades may pass before they can be secured again. Necessary conditions, such as the shade afforded by patio or the shady side of a house are limited in the Fairchild Tropical Garden. We do not have suitable places enough to take care of all these young plants. While they are small, they need careful watching; a plant lover should have them close at hand. "

During World War II, all plants were delivered by truck. Where truck deliveries were impractical, plants were sent by express collect, if members desired. In 1943, there was a charge of 35 cents per plant or three for a dollar! This was the cost of plants; no charge for delivery! Today, prices are a bit higher.

Currently, the plants grown for sale to Fairchild members are carefully considered before propagation takes place. In recent years, most of the plants offered for sale are propagated from plants growing in Fairchild or in the gardens of staff or volunteers. Many of the plants we offer are not available in local nurseries. The selection of plants for our sales is never far from my mind. I constantly observe plants growing in the garden, noting their characteristics. For example, "Are they adapted to South Florida soils, or do they need regular applications of iron?" Then there are questions we must ask to make sure that we do not introduce an exotic plant that will invade our natural areas. "Does the plant (if not native to South Florida) produce many seeds? Do the seeds germinate readily under the plant? Have we noticed seedlings elsewhere in the garden or in areas surrounding the garden?"

In some cases, Fairchild staff plant newly introduced exotic plants in our own yards to observe their growth, seed production and proclivity to produce seedlings - anything that would increase their chances of becoming a pest plant. We also observe them to determine how successfully they grow in our soils and climate. Are they adapted to our alkaline soils? Do they show cold damage when exposed to temperatures in the 40°s? Our intent is to distribute plants that are easily grown in our climate, but do not pose the risk of becoming a pest plant that could displace native flora.

We have a large number of species native to South Florida and the Caribbean growing at Fairchild. After years of observation, I have become increasingly drawn to the Bahamian plots, Plots 164 and 166. Many of the Bahamian plants also are native to South Florida. We are also growing native wildflowers, collected from cultivated specimens, so we can see how they are adapted to conditions not exactly like their native habitats. Their beautiful flowers, red, yellow, purple and blue, have the potential to give more color and interest to our landscapes. We use the knowledge gained from this project to increase the number and variety of native wildflowers available at our sales. We have collected seeds from native wildflowers growing on private property with permission from the owner. If you own property with native species present and would be willing to share seeds with us, we would appreciate hearing from you.

Plants that are designated "distribution plants" are those grown in larger quantities, described and with photos in our Members' Day Plant Sale brochure. Members may chose up to four species from the list of distribution plants to purchase. The distribution plants are located in one area in numerical order according to their listing on the distribution list in the plant sale brochure where members tell our staff which species they wish. The plants are then handed out to the members.

The "sale plants" are plants that are usually grown in smaller quantities and may or may not be mentioned in our Members' Day Plant Sale brochure. We offer trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, palms and wildflowers that have been propagated especially for members. Occasionally, we will have just a very small number of rare, choice species that we put "blue tags" on, meaning that they are available one per membership.

Members should plan on getting to the sale early. Plants sell out quickly. If you have your heart set on a distribution plant or one of the described sale plants, it is a good idea to be in line before 9:00 a.m. We open our lowland field for parking at 8:00 a.m. Members may park, then walk up to the Cycad Vista, just west of the Palm Glade and wait in line until 9:00 a.m. Many people bring their own nursery cart, wagon or wheelbarrow. This is strongly suggested.

In the days prior to the sale, you might want to visit Fairchild with the Members' Day brochure in hand, and take a look at examples of the distribution plants. Their locations in the garden are mentioned at the end of each description. We will also be setting up the sale area in the palmetum. During the week before the sale, you might want to visit this area to see exactly where the plants you want to purchase are located in the plant sale area. Just remember that the quantities are not endless and for the best chance to get the plants you want, be an early bird to get the plants you desire for your own garden.   

Members waiting in line in the Cycad Vista