The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is the only frost-free sub-tropical native botanical garden in the continental United States. Here you can see many endangered and threatened flora and fauna. A beautiful and serene respite, this special place will take you back in time and allow you to be among butterflies, birds, plants and seasonal flowers.
Located on Stock Island at the edge of New Town, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is a 15-acre haven of plants and animals native to Key West, the Florida Keys, Cuba and the Caribbean basin.
History and Development
The Key West Botanical Garden was initially founded and developed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FEMA) WPA Program during the Great Depression at the time when Key West went bankrupt. It was developed to stimulate both the local workforce and tourism.
At its most lush, the garden occupied 55 acres with greenhouses, flagstone walkways, orchid houses, an aviary and an amphitheater, but during World War II, the garden fell into neglect and disrepair. Sections of the site were used to build a military hospital and to house storage tanks for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the Key West Golf Course.
By 1961, the gardens dwindled to only 7.5 acres. Countering further degradation, the City of Key West designated the garden as a permanent wildlife sanctuary, botanical garden and arboretum. While the garden enjoyed a flourishing period, it soon fell to neglect once again.
In 1972, the Key West Garden Club assumed responsibility for the garden and launched a major restoration project. In 1988, the Key West Botanical Garden Society was formed and today the organization continues its commitment to the preservation of this beautiful, natural and unique ecosystem in the lower Keys.
Exhibits and Notable Areas
The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is maintained as a natural resource-based, outdoor recreational site. Guests are encouraged to take their time as they traverse the trails and observe Mother Nature.
You’ll be greeted by a volunteer at the Visitor Center where you can pick up a Garden Guide that outlines 10 self-guided information tours, two butterfly gardens, two wetland habitats and two exhibits.
Next, sit down to watch a short film about the gardens and the many species of plants that call this nature sanctuary home. A photo exhibit is also on display here.
The lush courtyard has a waterfall wall of tropical plants where you can spot turtles in their natural habitat.
Just of the Garden Courtyard, the Boardwalk encompasses the 1.5 acre Historic Butterfly Garden introducing you to the prime hardwood hammock including the Jamaica Caper, Paradise Tree, the Garden’s signature Lignum Vitae and a number of historic trees from the original Garden 1936.
Along the Western Loop, you’ll walk through a forest of Cinnamon Bark, Wild Tamarind, Milkbark, Wild Dilly, and Gumbo Limbo trees.
There are two gardens: the Historic Butterfly Garden and the Blue Butterfly Garden, home to more than 38 species of native butterflies.
There are three wetlands habitats inside the gardens, the Northside Pond, Desbiens Pond and the Hammock Marsh. This is where people spot rare resident white crowned pigeons, bald eagles, herons and more.
A natural field of native plants most would consider weeds, Flutterby Fields combines various grasses attracting birds, bees and butterflies with an exhibit of plants in the Nightshade Family, Solanum (flowering) and various Stopper trees.
Southside Point Tour is called the Terrace walk and is labeled as ‘bird alley’ demonstrating a prime example of a migratory and residence natural bird habitat.
From the visitor parking lot, the most scenic tours of the Garden lead you to the Visitor Center and to the Nature Chapel & Picnic Pavilion.
Towards the end of your tour, you’ll encounter the Cuban Palm and Cuban Chug exhibits showcasing lush, rare and unusual palm trees indigenous to the region and a collection of historic vessels that successfully navigated the Florida Straits to freedom.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., excluding Christmas, New Year’s Day and Fourth of July. Closes at 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Admission is $7. Seniors are $5 and children under 12 are free.
Self-guided tours via the Anniversary Garden Guide, free audio/text tour via your phone and complimentary WiFi are available. Docent tours are available when arranged in advance.
5210 College Road
Things to Do Nearby
Spend an afternoon on the links. The Key West Golf Club is adjacent to the grounds of the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden.
The Tennessee Williams Theatre is one of Key West’s leading performance venues, hosting everything from symphony orchestras to dramatic plays.
Located on the other side of the Overseas Highway at Cow Key Channel, Lazy Dog Adventures is a favorite paddleboard and kayak outfitter. Rentals and tours are available.
For lunch with Old Key West charm and delicious, fresh seafood, head to Hogfish Bar & Grill located a short drive from the Tropical Forest & Botanical Gardens on the other end of Stock Island.