December 22, 2008

Keys Coastal Habitat

I volunteered on Saturday but yesterday I just went to hang out and explore. I walked down to the Keys Coastal Habitat, which is in the southeast section of the garden known as the lowlands.
The habitat, with existing marsh and mangroves, was planted with Florida native species, principally those from the Florida Keys, that are attractive to birds throughout the year, but with a special emphasis on migrant species.
In the Keys Coastal Habitat, you'll find a winding trail and a wilderness within easy access of urban Miami -- a great respite from the city. Though there are residential backyards literally next door, it's a very peaceful place.

The habitat is a great way to see what the original Florida might've looked like. Existing vegetation was enhanced with other species that thrive in this kind of ecosystem. The trail is full of labels and tags on many trees and shrubs. If you're interested in learning about native gardening, this is a great resource.

Yesterday, I did not actually see any birds -- the only wildlife I saw was a squirrel! I also thought I heard something growl, but you know me, I have an overactive imagination. I also ran into a big cobweb and did a little cursing.

I am told though that with patience you will find a lot of birds here. There are a few posts in the lowlands for raptor nests, but those are currently empty.

If you come to visit this part of the garden, be prepared for a long, lovely walk. The trail begins at the end of the coconut grove, which you'll find by the lake (there is a tiki hut and bench at the grove's entrance).

I recommend you bring comfortable shoes. The best time of the year to visit the trail is during the cooler months when there are fewer mosquitoes. (I actually did not get bit once during my tour.) The trail is not paved but very worn and clear, with several connected detours. Also, unlike Matheson Hammock's mangrove trail, this one is pretty much above water level so I don't think it would get flooded during high tide, though the trail felt moist under my sneakers.

I live streamed from my phone. Click the play button below if you want to join me during part of my exploration; it's about 12 minutes long.

December 21, 2008

Ay Caramba!

Ay Caramba!, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

Do you remember the carambola (starfruit) espalier I've been tending for several weeks? Well guess what? Yesterday, I was looking for the flowers and what did I find?

The fruit of my labor!

Though not yet ripe, don't they look absolutely luscious?

Miscellany - December 21

Here is some miscellany I wanted to share with you ...


I likE plants! is a very cool blog by Tamarac resident Eric Bronson, who describes himself as:
I'm an amateur grower of Tropical Fruits, Species Orchids, Aroids, Bamboo, Rare Palms and other unusual tropical plants. I'm located in Zone: 10b, Lat/Lon: 26.25N 80.26W My garden is completely organic. I am also a member of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, The Rare Fruit & Vegetable Council of Broward County and the American Orchid Society. All the photos you see here are of my yard (unless otherwise noted) and were taken with a Kodak EasyShare M853 Zoom.
Eric also has a Flickr stream and a Rare Tropical Fruits Flickr group.


Do you remember the ghost orchid? Well, don't miss Prem Subrahmanyam's amazing photo gallery. Prem has a gorgeous website detailing his nature expeditions in writing and photography.


The best thing about growing things: eating them! Paradise Farms is a must see:
Paradise Farms is a beautiful five acre certified organic farm located in tropical south Florida. We work in harmony with nature to grow the finest quality delicious greens, micro-greens, herbs, edible flowers, fruits and vegetables available to the best chefs in the Miami area.
And, if you're really into it, become a member of Gabriele's Gardening Angels:
Gabriele’s Gardening Angels is an informal network of South Florida gardeners who have expressed a willingness to contribute some of their time and energy to promote the concept and benefits of home based sustainable agriculture to their friends and neighbors.
I'm happy to include all these sites on the sidebar. Happy gardening, everyone!

December 20, 2008


Pomegranate, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

Pomegranates can be found in local supermarkets now. Have you enjoyed one yet?

These are growing in the orchard at Fairchild. It's a long bush under the tamarind tree, right in front of the aloes. Although I haven't seen a any fruit grow large to edible size yet, the orange flowers are beautiful. The transformation from delicate flower to hardy fruit is always amazing to observe.

December 7, 2008

Tour of the Fruit Pavilion

I don't typically volunteer on Saturdays, but I went yesterday to help out with the Williams Grove fruit market at Fairchild.

I took some minutes to give you a tour of the fruit area. Check it out.

November 23, 2008


Serenity, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

When I took Fairchild's architecture class (more on that, coming soon), I learned so much about the garden's architect, William Lyman Phillips. Did you know, he also designed Matheson Hammock, Miami-Dade county's first official park? You don't really think of parks as places you "design" but just look at this photo. There is a vista, beyond the atoll, of eternity. He must've known that when he designed the enclosed pool with the palm trees in the background.

Actually the row of palms in between Fairchild and Matheson (they are adjacent properties) are supposed to tie in the entire landscape in this area of Biscayne Bay.

Matheson Hammock is a very special Miami place that everyone can enjoy. Can you believe that on the other side of this photo is the Miami skyline? It's really an urban oasis.

Living Poetry of Plants

cycad Encephalartos gratus Zamiaceae, female, collected from Malawi, on the property of the Center for Tropical Plant Research. Cycads are really fascinating ancient plants, related to conifers.

On Friday morning, my spirit shifted into a beautiful place by the simple observation of plants and the tenaciousness of life.

Surrounded by cycads, the world’s most ancient plants, right here, practically in my own back yard, was the incredible feeling of “I am complete somehow.” I could taste the salt air of Biscayne Bay on my skin and the fact that the predecessors of these plants had been around for millions of years.

Can you imagine breathing in that incredible air? Filling your lungs not only with oxygen but some living poetry? We have it down here, in Florida for sure – ancient creatures, like crocodiles and cycads. Once you tune into that cycle of nature, the breathing of the tides in the bay, the musky scent of mangroves in low tide, the lilac sunsets -- you have a real, primeval Florida that can inspire you beyond that concrete jungle and expressway tangle.

And which makes me think, this is no shallow place at all, but a place so deep -- even though you can barely dig 15 feet beneath the limestone to find water – but in spite of that you can dig and dig and never really find that treasure of El Dorado.

For me treasure is not gold, but love. And I guess plants bring me closer to this pure energy, more than anything else ever has -- total unconditional love -- love that is just present and beyond the ego.

Maybe we are all in our own little ways a little bit like Ponce de Leon looking in Florida for some fountain of youth, but maybe we should be looking for a fountain of love.

These cycads are not native to South Florida. They came here as the result of exploration and planted at the behest of Colonel Montgomery, the founder of Fairchild. Exploration is at the bottom of all this -- Fairchild was the Indiana Jones of tropical plants. Now, I can't say for sure which plant is attributed to whom-- but this is besides the point, the point is -- someone went somewhere to bring it here -- and this is precisely the spirit of tropical plant conservation that is still going on today. This passion for the plants, this passion to conserve them from extinction in our crazy world today, is the driving force behind all of this.

But let's forget the historical romance ... let me get back to my moment. Today, these cycads are thriving locally. They have not only made a century’s old journey across continents but also a genetic journey of a million years or more … is that not amazing?

And what's more, why can’t people make the same journey – together?

If I describe what I felt last Friday morning, surrounded by these ancient trees in the chill air of a cold front – I would call it pure and simple love – a love based on compassion. Being surrounded by these ancient trees brought out something in me that compelled me to an analogy, a bigger picture, something beyond me yet part of me: we are so much like plants, going through our cycles, flowering, withering and renewing.

Was it not some kind of love that planted these things in the first place?

And the most moving thing of all among these Jurassic plants was the sense of community … none of them exist in a vacuum. We depend on each other, like it or not, to thrive. We need the same soil, the same pollinators, to survive. Actually, this is a good metaphor for social media – the garden.

So it was with no surprise that while volunteering back at the nursery -- a greenhouse technologically designed to imitate the environment of a rain forest -- we found a corn snake while repotting a pineapple.

I knew then that this was a kind of Garden of Eden for me, among the slippery mud and muck of the floor, among the humidity, sweat and dirt-soaked fingers of my hands, I had found my own little paradise.

corn snake pineappleOops! This corn snake really didn't want to leave its nice warm, humid pot. You think it's hot and humid in Florida? Those special plants inside the nursery need even more heat and humidty!

FYI ... (sorry, this is the fact-checking journalist in me) Montgomery Botanical Center is located right behind the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation neither of which are open to the public. Mind you, I get to go as a volunteer. As far as I know, both institutions are not currently legally/technically related, though historically it was Colonel Montgomery who founded Fairchild. I know I said I would take a break from writing, and I have ... much catching up to do. But I was so inspired by this moment that I could not help but share and hope it will inspire readers to go to Fairchild, because it is truly something so unique to South Florida and related to the rest of the tropical plant world across the globe.

November 13, 2008

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary ...

Me in the fruit pavilion, as happy as can be. I'm always so happy in this place.

... how does your garden grow?

Some personal issues I have to deal with are keeping me from blogging. I hope to be back very soon with some posts about the wonderful classes I've taken and everything I've learned, not to mention the regular volunteer work I've done at Fairchild recently. There is so much I'm eager to share with you; I've taken volumes of notes and my appreciation for Fairchild and South Florida's gardening community has only grown deeper ... no pun intended!

It really is so truly historically rich ... I'm amazed and love this place all the more.

I just need a wee bit of time off from writing to take care of some things on the home front, but it actually pains me to not have the time/energy to write about something I love so much. I imagine this is how a tree would feel when it can't bear fruit!

Oh well. Patience, right? It's all about growing and seasons ... you see, you learn much about life when you work with plants.

Anyway, that being said, I suppose I don't have to remind readers that now with the nicer weather and all is a beautiful time to start enjoying Fairchild, Old Cutler, Matheson Hammock ...

Please stop by Fairchild's site. It's an excellent resource with info galore. Also, read my friend Doug's post on Old Cutler too. You need to take Old Culter to get to Fairchild. To me this is the most beautiful place in Miami. Hope you can enjoy it too. So much of South Florida history is tied to this special area by the bay.

So while I take my break, make sure you connect to nature in whatever way that is available to you. No harm can be done when we each take time every day to relate to nature, breathe and connect with that grounding energy of plants.

November 1, 2008

Vanilla Orchid

Vanilla Orchid, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

These Vanilla planifolia cuttings from the nursery were transplanted inside the fruit pavilion recently. The vanilla orchid is both terrestial and arboreal; it has roots in the ground and in the air. As you can see, it's climbing exceedingly well inside the warm and humid environment that will hopefully help it produce some seed pods. Right next to these orchids (not pictured here) are two Theobroma cacao trees. Yes, you guessed it: chocolate growing right next to vanilla!

Vanilla is one of my favorite flavors and aromas. To me, it evokes warmth, comfort and sensuality. It's such a common ingredient in so many foods; next time you detect its rich scent, remember it comes from the tropics.

What's your favorite vanilla food or memory?

October 26, 2008

Are You a Chicken When It Comes to Eggs?

Yesterday, I volunteered at Fairchild's first Kitchen Gardening event, which offered a handful of great classes on how to grow your own edibles and enjoy them. (I'll post about the event in detail later next week.)

The chickens from Williams Grove paid Fairchild a visit yesterday. When I left after a long and rainy day, I got to take home a freshly laid egg. I was really excited to try the egg because the only other time I had tried fresh eggs was in Spain, in the rugged Peaks of Europe, where my grandfather was born.

Yet, yesterday, a brief informal survey of a few family members revealed that they are squeamish about eating fresh eggs. My mother said: "I feel sorry for the chicken. I could never eat it."

What the ... ?

Now, I can't for the life of me figure out why on earth an omnivore that doesn't think twice about buying a carton of eggs from Publix would feel sorry for a chicken that lives the life o' Riley down in Homestead. I met those chickens personally. They're allowed to roam the farm and enjoy a deluxe coop where to lay eggs and rest at night. Why cringe and say "ew" to fresh and organic?

So I'd love to know: would you feel weird about eating fresh eggs? Please comment if you have a moment.

PS ... I haven't tried the egg yet. It's waiting in the fridge.

October 22, 2008

Volunteering - October 17

williams grove The entrance to Williams Grove. In season, you can buy fruit here on Saturdays.

Last week was a little unusual because instead of working at the fruit pavilion I headed down to the Redlands. I spent the day gathering information for an article about tropical fruit I plan to publish at Miami Beach 411 and came home with an additional bounty of material for this blog, which I will share in the coming weeks.

I spent the first part of the day at Fairchild's agricultural station, Williams Grove -- 20 acres donated by Frank Williams in 2002. About 80% of the grove is commercial and consists of the avocado trees originally planted there by Williams; the remaining percent forms part of Fairchild's living genetic collection, which features mango, mamey americana, jackfruit, canistel, spanish lime, caimito, mamey sapote and avocado. None of these trees are domesticated but rather grew from specimens brought over from other countries in collecting expeditions. The work involved in bringing those specimens to the states is another post in itself!

Noris Ledesma, Curator of Tropical Fruit, gave me a tour of the house and the property, taught me how to graft a tree and gave me a grafted mamey sapote plant to take home. I could really tell how much love and care has gone into the development of this property, much of it done with the help of volunteers.

I also spent time with Senior Curator of Tropical Fruit, Dr. Richard Campbell talking about his background as well as his family's -- he's a second generation Redlands agricultural expert. He also covered the process of running the farm and growing trees. The scientific research done in the fruit program as well as the day-to-day work in maintaining a thriving collection is truly impressive. It takes more than book learning to truly and deeply understand these trees and Richard's passion for the work is readily apparent.

Both Noris and Richard were very welcoming and eager to share. The pair of geese on the farm, however, were not so warm. Every time I walked by, they tried to peck at my feet in unrelenting attack!

Talk about homeland security, this feathery patrol would have nothing to do with me!

The second part of the day I spent at the Fruit and Spice Park with Director Chris Rollins, who gave me a tour. The number and variety of plants there is dizzying! The park is undergoing some expansion now. They're digging a large lake that will feature a waterfall and aquatic plants.

Overall, I left the Redlands with a greater appreciation not only for tropical plants but also for the rich agricultural history right in our own backyard. I definitely plan to spend more time there in the future. It's such a refreshing respite from the city and getting there by way of historic Old Cutler Road makes it even better. Stay tuned for more detailed posts about what this city girl learned in the Redlands that day!

On a side note, Fairchild asked to feature me as volunteer in the next edition of their gorgeous publication, Tropical Garden Magazine. I was very flattered, not to mention honored! I'm not sure when the next edition comes out, but you can browse past editions online here.

October 16, 2008

Volunteering - October 10

clipping rambutanA cutting of rambutan.

This week we did more pruning, so I don't have much new to report. I continued to work on my carambola.

Toward the end of the morning Jon-Mario decided to do an experiment in propagation. We gathered some cuttings and I took home one from a rambutan tree. If you recall, this particular tree was flowering back in June, but it never produced fruit.

It's not easy for some of these exotics to produce fruit in South Florida. Below and above ground, the Whitman fruit pavilion was designed to mimic the environments where these types of trees normally thrive:
The fruit trees located in the pavilion are indigenous to the acidic soils of the jungles and in order to protect these trees from the alkaline rocky soil of Florida, engineers were required to excavate the area below the pavilion. The acidic soil is maintained by using mulch and water from an acidic cistern. The pavilion must provide both a warm humid environment above and acidic soil below, protecting the rare specimens from root to canopy.
So far, a week has gone by and my cutting is doing doing well, but I don't think it will grow without the specialized soil and environment. Still, it would be very cool to have a tropical fruit tree collection someday. Some trees do grow well outdoors here.

First, of course, I need to get me a house with a yard. Gotta think positive and prosperous! But regardless, I'm very happy to help take care of the trees inside the pavilion.

rambutan clippingA humble cutting of an exotic tree.

The cultural season at Fairchild is picking up with plenty of events, classes and workshops, so there'll be plenty to report here in the weeks to come. Plus, I'm working on a comprehensive article about tropical fruit in South Florida and it includes a report on Williams Grove to share with you! Stay tuned!

October 9, 2008

Volunteering-October 3

pineapple patchThere's a new pineapple patch behind the gazebo.

Last week we continued working on the pineapple patch by mulching and planting. Gonzalo was there to also help out.

My other tasks included removing dead flowers and leaves from the red button ginger and covering new guava fruit with paper bags to keep the bugs away.

red buttong gingerRed button ginger in the morning sunlight.

guavaGuava fruit even at this stage is incredibly fragrant.

I continued to work on the carambola (star fruit) espalier. I was very pleased to see that it is growing flowers all over! I guess the espalier technique really works because in a couple of weeks it went from no flowers to many. The timing is right because according to the Virtual Herbarium, fall is the time for carambola to bear fruit. I'll be so happy to sample it knowing that I helped the trees along in the process.

carambolaCarambola buds before flowering.

carambola Tiny little carambola tree flowers, smaller than the width of my thumb nail!

This isn't the only carambola at Fairchild. There are a couple more trees that were fruiting about a month ago near the big Baobab and the vine garden. Those trees are growing upright though.

More about carambola:
As fall approaches, South Florida's carambola trees hang heavy with golden fruits. The carambola, or star fruit was introduced into Florida over 100 years ago from Southeast Asia. In Florida fruits can be found through the year but the main crop usually matures from late summer to early winter depending on the cultivar.
Carambola is delicious, with a crisp texture and a somewhat tart flavor. I'm definitely going to try out some of these recipes when carambola starts appearing in the markets.

October 5, 2008

Miami River Pocket Park

miami river commission  UM national ghandi dayPlanting trees and shrubs to create a new pocket park along the Miami river.

I used to think of a garden as a private space that requires tending, but since I started volunteering at Fairchild my idea of "garden" has shifted to a greater, collective consciousness. In some ways, now that I don't have a garden of my own (except for the orchids on my balcony!) I feel like more of a gardener than ever.

When I am working with the plants at Fairchild, I feel a very intimate connection to nature and no doubt a sense of ownership. But the greatest return here is that the ownership is shared with others who feel the same passion for the garden. It's a perfect world -- both personal and collective.

There are opportunities out there in the city to get your hands in the dirt and for the benefit of all -- a kind of civic gardening -- even if you don't have time to do this on a regular basis. This is exactly what one group of 40 University of Miami students did on one little section of the Miami River on September 20.

As part of "National Ghandi Day," the students teamed up with the Miami River Commission to create a new riverfront pocket park at a formerly vacant parcel between 1675 NW South River Drive and the Southeast side of the NW 17th Avenue Bridge. They planted eight native trees, donated by Vila and Son, as well as 140 flowering bushes.

As some of you may already know, I recently wrote an article about the Miami River for Miami Beach 411. While researching the project, I learned about the Miami River Greenway, a 10-mile path part of which is still under construction or in development. "Pocket parks" are small green areas on the path in between the larger named parks. I applaud the river commission for its effort in developing a greenway for all to enjoy. Although a greenway is not a garden in the traditional sense, it is everyone's backyard. Amazing things happen when people and plants come together!

A final UM volunteer beautification event will take place on Sunday, October 12 on North River Drive, from NW 3rd Street to NW 6th Avenue from 1-4 PM. You don't have to be a UM student to participate. Please call the Miami River Commission at (305) 644-0544 or email for more information.

September 30, 2008

Volunteering - September 26

malay appleAn archway of Malay apple.

Last Friday I spent a lot of time pruning like last week -- once again, the noni -- as well as touching up some new growth on the carambola. I also trimmed the lovely archway by the gazebo, which consists of Malay apple.

New pineapple plants, ready for planting.

Afterwards, I cleared up the pineapple patch behind the gazebo. Jon-Mario said we'd be planting new, healthier pineapples soon.

man workingWe finally found a solvent for tape, but still needed a lot of elbow grease!

Another thing we worked on was cleaning the plastic sheets that cover the informative posters in front of the pavilion. The ends had been glued with tape so we tried to figure out what we could use to dissolve it. This was time consuming and Jon-Mario said he would be continuing with the other three posters the following week.

jackfruitA truly tropical feast: coconut, dwarf bananas and jackfruit (Artocarpus heteropyllus).

After our work, Jon-Mario treated a new volunteer and I to some jackfruit from a tree in the garden. If you recall, I posted a photo of the tree back in August, when it was bearing six huge fruits.

It was my first time trying jackfruit and it was really delicious! The fruit is a bulb that lies tucked inside some fibrous strands so it needs to be pulled out. The edible part is soft and not at all fibrous. There's supposed to be a sticky latex around the fruit, but I didn't feel it. The taste is something like mango, but more subtle, with hints of passion fruit and pineapple. (Some people think it tastes like Juicyfruit gum.)

jackfruitDelectable jackfruit ready to eat. The seed is on the inside.

I really enjoyed it and would eat it more often, but it's rare to find it commercially available in South Florida and even when it's sold it runs about $2.50 - $3 a pound, according to Jon-Mario.

The jackfruit tree in the garden is not a really big tree, in spite of the size of the fruit -- though I'm sure the tree is trimmed. If I had a yard, I'd definitely plant jackfruit tree.
This most unusual of fruit is a member of the mulberry family, although its outward appearance would not suggest the relationship. The fruit can weigh upwards of 30 or 40 pounds, with an unusual, spiky green skin. Inside there are a hundred or more large, starchy seeds surrounded by a sweet and aromatic flesh, all attached to a central core.
To learn more about jackfruit, visit Fairchild virtual herbarium.

September 23, 2008


Guava is currently bearing fruit in the garden. The paper bags protect the fruit.

Volunteering - September 15

noni Noni fruit with flower in the background.

Last week was pretty low-key. I finished the project I started September 5th, which was pruning and winding the carambola trees into an espalier. It doesn't seem like a difficult task (it's not) but it does take quite a bit of time. It's amazing how quickly these fruit trees produce new growth!

I also pruned the tops of the noni trees, which are beginning to produce fruit. Jon-Mario told me that the fruit, when it reaches the ripening stage, has a very unpleasant smell.

September 14, 2008

Flickr Meetup at Fairchild

On September 7th, I met with a group of wonderfully talented photographer friends from Flickr. We spent about three hours in the garden clicking away. We were Miami Fever, Fraggle Red, Lenny Furman, Rober2010, Liz Alonso and of course, yours truly.

Here is a slideshow of photos from the day. Don't forget, there are still two more free Sundays in September to enjoy Fairchild.

September 9, 2008


Langsat Fruiting, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

The langsat tree (Lansium domesticum) inside the Whitman pavilion is currently bearing fruit. When I first started volunteering back in June, this is what it looked like:

langsat flower

Volunteering - September 5

star fruit carambola vineTraining star fruit (carambola) trees to grow sideways on three levels. You can see the difference between the trained vine on the left and the thick growth on the right.

This week, I started with the usual housekeeping -- picking up leaves and sweeping the path inside the pavilion. But later, I had an interesting task, which was to "train" some starfruit trees to grow sideways, as in a vine. Jon-Mario had cut back the trees just before the Mango Festival in July, but much of it had grown back quite thickly.

Apparenly, there's something about training the branches and twigs and supporting the old growth that helps the starfruit flower and fruit. The task doesn't seem like much, but it's meticulous and took most of my volunteering session that day.

jackfruit and avocadoThis was actually a smallish jackfruit (left).

Jon-Mario had brought a jackfruit for me to try, but it seems like it had been picked too early and had not ripened properly. I didn't want to sample it because I had never tried jackfruit and since Jon-Mario told me it wasn't at its best flavor, I opted to wait until a good one comes along. The inside of the fruit is impressive looking. Its scent was very sweet and reminded me of a cross between pineapple and passion fruit. The avocado, however, I did take home! It became part of a salad with grape tomatoes, chopped onion and cilantro, olive oil, lime and sea salt.

September 3, 2008

Bromeliad Bloom

Bromeliad Bloom, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

Volunteering - August 28 potential for abundance: I found this mangosteen seedling while transplanting some other larger plants.

This week we basically finished up what we started the week prior. Gonzalo and I transferred many smaller plants to larger pots, including miracle fruit, durian, jack fruit and mamey. I love working with fruit because it makes me think of the potential for abundance in every seed. It really is an incredible thing -- even though it's something we often take for granted. Rows of small mamey trees. Jon-Mario's task later that day was to fertilize all the plants we had repotted. up the drippers on some miracle fruit.

August 28, 2008

Palm Grove

Palm Grove, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

One of the advantages of volunteering at Fairchild: morning light at 8:30 am, before doors open to the public. This grove is located by the Glade Lake, just east of the rainforest.

August 25, 2008

Volunteering - August 15

center for tropical plant conservationJust two of several greenhouses at the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation.

This week we had a change of pace from working at the fruit pavilion. We met at the Fairchild grounds at 8:30 am and then drove to the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation (CTPC) to work with plants in the nursery. Located just minutes from the Fairchild grounds, CTPC is where much of the scientific work takes place:
The Center for Tropical Plant Conservation is dedicated to conserving tropical plants, driven by the imperative to avoid the extinction of species and their habitats. These activities are measured by the delivery of quantifiable conservation benefits to Fairchild's priority geographic investment regions (South Florida, Caribbean, oceanic islands, tropical Africa, and Madagascar) and plant groups (palms, cycads, tropical fruit and tropical trees). These have been selected because of conservation need, institutional expertise and history. Main activities include field exploration of important plant areas, conservation assessments, species recovery and direct support to in-situ conservation.
CTPC is unique not only for its mission, but also because it's one of few botanic gardens with a molecular lab, operated in association with Florida International University. As well, CTPC has an extensive herbarium of Florida and Caribbean botany, with over 165,000 specimens, some of which have been posted online in this incredible Virtual Herbarium.

On Friday, we worked inside one of the greenhouses.

center for tropical plant conservationThis particular nursery serves the tropical fruit program. The floor was rather slippery!

center for tropical plant conservationJon-Mario planted each of these healthy young plants back in March from pineapple tops.

Our task included repotting small sapodilla fruit trees to larger containers. Sapodilla is native to the Yucatan and was probably introduced to Florida from the Bahamas in the 1800s.
The sapodilla is found in Florida as far north as Merritt Island, but mostly is found from Miami to Key West. . . . The flavor is like a cocktail combining pear, peach, brown sugar, cinnamon and a little brandy. Sapodilla fruits are soft, sweet and have a beautiful smell when ripe.

From the Tropical Fruit Collection (scroll down)
We had to set up our repotted sapodilla on these long, metal tables that roll side-to-side. Although the nursery has a sprinkler system, we tried to attach a dripper to each plant. The drippers are small hoses lined up on the middle of each table.

center for tropical plant conservationOur work station inside the nursery. That wall against the back is actually a HUGE filter-like metal screen that drips water on a timer.

It was quite humid inside the nursery, but with open doors the air circulated (we're very close to Biscayne Bay here, so there's breezes). After seeing this nursery and working at the Whitman pavilion at the Fairchild grounds, I think I'm getting a better sense of what tropical really means (climate-wise) from a horticultural perspective.

center for tropical plant conservationRepotting the sapodilla. Jon-Mario told me that the plants looked yellow because they had an iron deficiency. I think we're supposed to fertilize them next week to correct that.

center for tropical plant conservationThe sapodilla trees we repotted, ready to grow some more!

August 22, 2008

The Secret Life of an Orchid

This is a cattleya phaleanopsis from my own collection. Orchids never cease to amaze the imagination!

And speaking of orchids, recently a social media acquaintance of mine happened to be trudging through the Everglades and spotted a rare ghost orchid! Check out his Flickr photoset of the adventure.

August 14, 2008

Reclamation Project

The Reclamation Project at the Miami Science Museum is a participatory eco-art project developed by Miami artist Xavier Cortada to help restore native habitats for plants and animals across our community.

Planting mangrove seedlings.

The Reclamation Project is the beautiful brainchild of Xavier Cortada, a Miami-based artist devoted to environmental causes. Xavier is an dear old friend of mine; I've known him since my undergrad college days, when he was in law school at UM.

If you've driven in downtown Miami, you've seen some of Xavier's artwork painted on the columns in the underpasses. The strange-looking creatures are actually his interpretation of mangrove seedlings.

Last year, I volunteered with the Reclamation Project and it was a very rewarding experience. A group of adults and schoolchildren helped Xavier plant some mangrove seeds in a protected area of Key Biscayne's Crandon Park. Knowing that each mangrove seed has the potential to flourish and become natural habitat makes the task a very powerful gesture. Xavier told me that he had fond memories of walking around that area with his father when he was a child. His passion and real love for the environment is readily apparent even in simple conversation. I love that he has taken nature to an art form; reclaiming the environment gives everyone a chance to leave a mark on the canvas of the earth.

Helping restore the environment is Xavier's way of giving to the community. In a county where urban development boundaries are a joke, Xavier's project is all the more important.

If you've lived on Miami Beach, you know what I'm talking about. Actually, now that I'm living in South Miami, Miami Beach seems like a concrete jungle to me. It's so congested with high-rises, you hardly know you're on an island. Compared to South Miami and the Everglades, Miami Beach doesn't even feel tropical anymore! That's just incredible, isn't it? On those barrier islands that were sweeped clean of natural vegetation, there remains (as far as I know) only one mangrove area that wasn't replaced by a sea wall -- the border of Indian Creek and Pinetree Park.

On August 24th, Reclamation Project will be collecting mangrove seedlings at Bear Cut. And in September, we'll plant 1100 seedlings at Virginia Key. If you want to get to know the real Florida up close and personal, this is a great way to do it. Visit Reclamation Project to learn more. If you don't want to get down and dirty, you could also contribute by adopting a mangrove seedling for $25. This part of the project is in collaboration with Miami's Museum of Science. Xavier has also collaborated with the museum on the Native Flags project, which is an urban reforestation effort in South Florida.

Xavier has pursued other singular opportunities to do environmentally-conscious art work on an international scale. He has been to both the North and South pole! I joked with him that he was probably the first hot-blooded Cuban to set foot at Antarctica's McMurdo station and would probably contribute to global warming. All kidding, of course! Xavier created some "ice paintings" that I had a chance to see last year at a Wynwood exhibit. He "painted" with ancient ice -- it's really groovy stuff.


No, it's not a cocktail!

You may have seen mangrove seedlings on display at South Beach storefronts. I wrote an article about Xavier's project at Miami Beach 411 in '06 that explains it all.

You can also see mangrove habitats at Fairchild in the "wetlands" area of the garden. Expect to see some iguanas, too!

In the spirit of Nature Girl, I continued my passion for trekking in the muck yesterday at Matheson Hammock park. Below is another video I shot on my cellphone.

August 12, 2008


Jackfruit, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

Jackfruit growing right outside the fruit pavilion's entrance. Each fruit can weigh up to 80 pounds!

Volunteering - August 1

richard campbell Dr. Campbell pruning trees inside the fruit pavilion.

I didn't volunteer the past two Fridays because Jon-Mario was taking some time off. Then last week, I strained my shoulder at the gym, so I had to refrain from physical activity for a couple of days.

This past week though, we worked very hard at "spring cleaning" the fruit pavilion. Dr. Richard Campbell, Senior Curator of Tropical Fruit, was pruning many of the trees inside the pavilion and outside in the orchard.

What a mess! Most of the plants were pruned to promote long-term healthier growth.

We filled three truck loads of plant clippings!

Jon-Mario and I also dug soil away from the base of the tree trunks so that their roots could better absorb water. It was a very physically strenuous session, but all worth it, of course!

Some of the trees may have been originally planted too deep. We exposed the surface area around the base of this Langsat tree so that water from the sprinklers can now readily reach its roots.

I had a chance to chat briefly with Noris Ledesma, Tropical Fruit Curator. She told me that they are selling fruit from Williams Grove on Sundays. Don't forget: admission is free on Sundays, August through September.

The Kampong

david fairchild the kampong David Fairchild's study at The Kampong.

I recently wrote an article about The Kampong for Miami Beach 411. I had a chance to tour this historic bayside property with its director, David Lee. The Kampong is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden and not associated with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden as an institution, but it is the former home of plant explorer David Fairchild (the garden's namesake).
In 1916, David Fairchild and his wife Marian settled on the property. As Chief of the Seed and Plant Introduction Section of the US Department of Agriculture, David Fairchild explored the world and introduced about 20,000 types of plants to this country, some of which he planted at The Kampong. Barbour Lathrop, a wealthy American philanthropist, sponsored many of Fairchild’s expeditions. “Fairchild helped establish avocado in California,” said David Lee, director of The Kampong. “His work broadened the American palette by introducing many kinds of fruit.”
Read more about David Fairchild's former home at 411.