One of the best places to unearth Florida’s history is by visiting one of the many botanical gardens that dot the map. Each documented collection offers a unique experience and a look into the natural beauty of the south. As a result, the mix of native and exotic species planted by collectors, scientists, and horticulturists has educated the public for decades. And because of their efforts, Florida has preserved thousands of threatened and endangered plants. Discover the 18 best botanical gardens in Florida and learn about the history of Floridian wildlife conservation.
1. Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park – Tallahassee, FL
The Maclay Gardens State Park was originally their winter home, started by Alfred B. Maclay and Louise Maclay in 1923. Nevertheless, the 1,176-acre historic park features two short nature trails that overlook the lake. Visitors can swim, fish, canoe, kayak, and have a picnic.
Additionally, you can venture through the six miles of shared trails that wind through the woods. Explore a secret garden, walled garden, reflection pool, and a robust collection of camellias and azaleas.
2. Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens – Jacksonville, FL
One of the best botanical gardens in Florida, Cummer Museum doubles as the largest fine arts museum in Northeast Florida. The picturesque landscape was created in honor of Ninah Cummer after her death in 1958. It features her art collection and four beautiful historic gardens.
As a result, each garden is decorated with grand arches, pillars, and staircases to add to the 2.5 acres of plants and foliage. Two beautiful blooms found among the garden are amaryllis and camellias. And despite sustaining damage in 2017 in the wake of Hurricane Irma, restoration efforts have made it impossible to notice.
3. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens – Gainesville, FL
Named after the lake just north of its 68-acre park, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is an expansive park. It contains 24 distinct collections with signature plants, including Chinese royal bamboo (Wong Chuk), Victoria cruziana, and Asian snake arums. Kanapaha is the best garden in Florida to see giant lily pads. In fact, the Victoria cruziana set a world record in 2019 with its 91 inches in length. The garden also contains the state’s largest display of bamboo and the most extensive herb garden in the Southeast U.S.
4. Washington Oaks Gardens State Park – Palm Coast, FL
Although Washington Oaks is best known for its selection of azaleas, camellias, and birds of paradise, it’s also a formal garden and beachfront state park famous for its unique shoreline and rock formations. The impressive 425 acres of land protect this part of the Atlantic coast. Visitors can enjoy a picnic, a stroll, or even go fishing. What’s more, you can spot a deer or an owl while hiking or biking on one of the paths.
5. McKee Botanical Garden – Vero Beach, FL
McKee Botanical Garden is a historic garden that inspires and educates visitors. Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton wanted to cultivate citrus on the 80-acre tropical land. However, they preserved the natural beauty of this spot instead. It’s now a Florida Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The garden features 10,000 native and tropical plants, including the state’s largest collection of water lilies with over 80 varieties. Additionally, various cultural and educational programs make it one of the best botanical gardens for children in South Florida. Peak bloom is in June, which is when the annual water lily celebration takes place.
6. Hollis Garden – Lakeland, FL
One of the best botanical gardens in Florida looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale with its neoclassical architecture, white pillars, and sculptures. The formal 1.2-acre Hollis Garden is nestled within Lake Mirror Park but cannot be missed with its beautifully manicured campus. It’s home to thousands of flowers and native trees that are rotated in the 16 themed sections throughout the year. Visitors can take a gander at orchids, tillandsias, and more. Additionally, it’s free to stop and stroll if you are on your way to or from Orlando.
7. Bok Tower Gardens – Lake Wales, FL
The Singing Tower, famously known as Bok Tower Gardens, is the creation of publisher and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward W. Bok. Additionally, it’s a 130-acre National Historic Landmark with grounds cultivated by landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.
First opened in 1929 as a bird sanctuary, the property now features an eclectic combination of native and exotic plants, migratory songbirds, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The charming 205-foot bell tower houses 60 ringing bells that create a stunning musical experience in one of the most beautiful gardens in Florida, lasting 30 minutes each afternoon. Visitors can enjoy the peaceful melody while taking in a variety of more than 150 camellias and hundreds of azaleas, irises, and more.
8. Florida Botanical Gardens – Largo, FL
With over 182 acres, the Florida Botanical Gardens is one of the best botanical gardens in Florida. Visitors of all ages can enjoy themed formal gardens with butterflies, cacti, succulents, and roses. Moreover, the colorful tropical and subtropical flora and fauna, including native plants, tropical fruit, and butterflies, represent the local landscape. There are also numerous water and art features along miles of the protected wetlands of Florida leading up to the wildlife overlook. You might be lucky and spot one of the alligators.
9. Sunken Gardens – St. Petersburg, FL
The Sunken Gardens is a not-so-hidden 4-acre gem, earning its name from the drained lake beneath it. As a result, the gardens are 10 feet below sea level. For over 100 years, the Sunken Gardens have taught visitors about local wildlife, making it one of the most famous gardens in Florida. As a result, it’s one of the oldest remaining roadside attractions in the state, with some of the oldest tropical plants, including the largest collection of native royal palm trees.
What’s more, adults and children can walk beside calming waterfalls, native plants, a koi pond, and Chilean flamingos. Fun fact, George and Lucy are the only two remaining flamingos from the original flamboyance brought to the property. However, 20 more joined them in 2016.
10. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens – Sarasota, FL
Once the home of Marie and William Selby, this botanical bayfront sanctuary is home to a beautiful orchid collection of over 6,000 specimens alone. A stroll through the banyan trees or along the waterfall and koi pond makes this one of the best gardens to visit in Florida.
What’s more, there are two campuses – the 15-acre downtown campus and the 30-acre Historic Spanish Point campus. The downtown campus is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the natural wonders of bromeliads, epiphytic orchids, gesneriads, and ferns.
11. Harry P. Leu Gardens – Orlando, FL
The 50-acre botanical refuge located right outside downtown Orlando is the Leu Gardens. Here, a Native Wetland Garden is home to native birds and other wildlife, as well as an aroid, azalea, bromeliad, banana collection, and more. It also features rotating exhibits in the Garden House Welcome Center. But what makes this one of the best gardens in Florida is Mary Jane’s Rose Garden, named after Mrs. Leu. In 1944, she planted her first roses on the property that used to be their home. However, the garden is now brimming with over 215 varieties of roses.
12. Edison Ford and Winter Estates – Fort Myers, FL
The Edison Ford and Winter Estates began as a winter refuge in Southwest Florida for the Edison family in 1886. However, there are now over 1,500 plants from six continents located between the homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford and the Caloosahatchee River. Explore the 20 acres of land that was once used for research. Unique plants, such as the cycads and the Puerto Rican hat palm, are just a few of the many plant varieties to see. Importantly, The Estates are home to one of the largest banyan trees in the continental U.S.
13. Flamingo Gardens – Davie, FL
The Flamingo Gardens of Davie is a 60-acre Botanical Garden and Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary. Here, visitors enjoy lush gardens with thousands of rare and exotic plants here. The sanctuary is also home to native alligators, bobcats, eagles, panthers, and flamingoes, of course. Flamingo Gardens was also the first to provide sanctuary to injured and non-releasable native wildlife in the state.
14. Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens – Delray, FL
Divided into six distinct gardens over 188.5 acres is the Palm Beach County Museum, Morikami. Each garden references select historical periods in Japan from the 9th to the 20th centuries. Because it’s designed by one of the most influential Japanese garden designers, Hoichi Kurisu, this museum focuses on a healthy connection between mind and body.
It’s the best botanical garden in Florida to see bonsai trees. However, plants on the premise are not labeled because it distracts from the natural experience. Visitors are encouraged to take a therapeutic stroll through the Well-Being Therapeutic Garden and then learn about the art and technique of sculpting bonsai trees in the bonsai exhibit.
15. Naples Botanical Garden – Naples, FL
Naples Botanical Garden features 170 acres of plants from the tropics and subtropics. And, close to 100 acres of restored natural habitats are explored along several walking trails each day. As a result, it’s one of the most charming gardens in Florida to visit.
Moreover, half the property houses plants native to Southwest Florida. Over 26 species are featured in only one garden collection, and 35 species don’t exist anywhere else. One such native and endangered plant is the scrub milkweed. It’s only found in one other collection worldwide!
16. Mounts Botanical Garden – West Palm Beach, FL
As the oldest and largest in the county, Mounts Botanical Garden is 14 acres of tropical fruit trees, bromeliads, palms, bamboo, and more. Visitors are greeted by a monstera, which can be found throughout the display gardens and in the Mounts logo. Moreover, its vegetable garden educates visitors on the technique of subtropical gardening, making it one of the best Florida botanical gardens for eager gardeners.
With 25 unique areas, Mounts is home to over 5,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants that each tell a story. In addition to the view, an island overlook provides a glimpse of koi, plecos, and turtles below.
17. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden – Coral Gables, FL
The Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden was first founded by Col. Robert H. Montgomery and named after his friend and famous plant conservationist, Dr. David Fairchild. The garden has the largest palm collection in the U.S. and is a keeper of the National Palm Collection. But there’s more that makes it so special.
Some of the original collections started by Fairchild remain, including a giant African baobab tree. However, the collection has grown to include tropical fruit and orchids, eight lakes, and eleven art installations. All 83 acres began as a historical collection for experts to study and save endangered plants and is now one of the best botanical gardens in Florida for children.
18. Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden – Key West, FL
The Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden is unique because it’s the only frost-free garden in the Continental U.S. Open since 1939, all 15.2 acres of garden and forest provide a relaxing and educational experience for visitors of all ages.
Catch a glimpse of rare butterflies or any resident or migrating birds passing through the beautiful gardens. Initially founded by the federal government as part of the Depression Era recovery efforts, the garden continues to preserve threatened and endangered species native to the Florida Keys, Cuba, and the Caribbean.
The 18 Best Botanical Gardens in Florida: A Recap
|Garden Name||Location||Size (acres)||Known For|
|Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park||Tallahassee, FL||1,176 acres||Azaleas|
|Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens||Jacksonville, FL||2.5 acres||Amaryllis |
|Kanapaha Botanical Gardens||Gainesville, FL||68 acres||Asian snake arums|
Victoria water lilies
|Washington Oaks Gardens State Park||Palm Coast, FL||425 acres||Azaleas|
Bird of paradise
|McKee Botanical Garden||Vero Beach, FL||80 acres||Orchids|
|Hollis Garden||Lakeland, FL||1.2 acres||Orchids|
|Bok Tower Gardens||Lake Wales, FL||130 acres||Azaleas|
|Florida Botanical Gardens||Largo, FL||182 acres||Roses|
|Sunken Gardens||St. Petersburg, FL||4 acres||Chilean flamingos|
|Marie Selby Botanical Gardens||Sarasota, FL||15 acres||Bromeliads|
Epiphytic orchids Gesneriads
|Harry P. Leu Gardens||Orlando, FL||50 acres||Aroids |
|Edison Ford and Winter Estates||Fort Myers, FL||20 acres||Cycads |
Puerto Rican hat palm
|Flamingo Gardens||Davie, FL||60 acres||Flamingos|
|Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens||Delray, FL||188.5 acres||Bamboo|
|Naples Botanical Garden||Naples, FL||170 acres||Screw pine|
|Mounts Botanical Garden||West Palm Beach, FL||14 acres||Monstera |
|Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden||Coral Gables, FL||83 acres||African baobab tree|
|Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden||Key West, FL||15.2 acres||Flowering solanum |
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Hernando Sorzano/Shutterstock.com
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