The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden 85 Years in the Making – 1936 to 2021

WE ARE ON A MISSION…..!   For 85 years the growth of the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden started and stopped due to various influences as discussed in the previous two articles in our series.  But with the creation of the Key West Botanical Garden Society in 1988, it evolved and changed and has progressed steadily to the present day in fulfilling its Mission Statement.

“The purpose of this organization is to preserve, develop, expand and maintain the historic Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden as an arboretum, botanical garden, cultural heritage museum, wildlife refuge and educational center.

The garden will showcase the historical significance of flora that are native to South Florida, Cuba and the Caribbean and emphasize cultivation of threatened and endangered species of the Florida Keys.  This organization will encourage study of this collection and promote the benefits of native vegetation worldwide. The Society shall also provide educational programs for all age groups and various levels of interest geared to Keys residents, tourists, plant experts, and others.”

This is a LARGE mission.  It takes a large number of dedicated volunteers to help the staff carry it out.   These dedicated volunteers include:  The Board of Directors, the Garden Guardians which include the Student Companions, Docents, Public Relations and Special Event volunteers.  They all work diligently to find sources of funding and administer the implementation of the many projects that are needed to fulfill our mission.

A botanical garden has 3 main purposes:  1) to provide recreational and educational space for area residents and visitors; 2) to support and engage in the conservation of our vital plant resources;  3) to support botanical or biological research that occurs across a wide spectrum of fields and ideas.  The tropical forests of the Caribbean, including the Key West Tropical Forest, are at the top of scientists’ list of hotspots.  Hotspots house about half of all the variety of life on earth!  The Garden is Biodiversity in action.

The Board of Directors is tasked with executing the mission of the Society by completing the master and business plans and developing new plans so that there is always a five-year plan to guide the Society.

The Garden Guardians meet twice a week and are the ‘maintenance crew’ preserving, the native flora.  Maintaining a 15-acre site in this environment with a hand-full of volunteers is a monumental task.  Trimming, removing invasive plants, plant health care and the installation of new demonstration Gardens is a never-ending “to-do” list. The student Companions meet on Saturdays in the Nursery and learn about propagation of our native species.  The Garden’s Nursery has doubled in size in the past 5 years and now grows and propagates over 2,100 plants, which are available to the community and installed in the Garden.  The Nursery also serves as a focal point of the Education Department.  The Nursery is open to the public for plant sales once a month to help educate residents and promote the benefits of native plants and wildlife.

The Docents give guided tours to visitors and help with the education department.  They have their own mission statement:  “Our purpose as Docents for the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Society is to be in the forefront of educating visitors on the importance of the KWBGS as a conservancy in the form of a garden and to share our enthusiasm of the uniqueness of the Garden; to introduce visitors to and interpret the Garden’s collection of native plants, insects and birds; and communicate the importance of the Garden and its role as a sanctuary for an endangered ecosystem”.

It takes an entire community of volunteers to continue our mission to preserve and conserve this unique jewel that is the only frost-free tropical forest & botanical garden in the continuous United States.  This would be impossible without our public relations and special events volunteers.  These volunteers do everything from collecting tickets to selling hot dogs and cleaning up at the end of the event.