2014 Biennial – Florida

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Date(s) - 05/24/2014 - 05/31/2014
All Day

Miami, South Florida, USA


The recent Miami Biennial was an extraordinary experience, not only for first time visitors to south Florida, but for anyone wanting to experience a palm paradise. The public and private gardens are second to none and provided an unforgettable experience for all.

Day One
The very first day of arrival to a biennial is actually one of the most enjoyable moments of the entire event. Connecting and catching up with old friends and meeting new ones, as they check in and explore the hotel, is a rather exciting time for most participants. The opening night banquet kicks off the event.

Day Two
The first morning after breakfast saw all 126 participants boarding the buses and heading north to visit Highland Hammock State Park. This slice of nature, surrounded by the Everglades, contained beautiful, old, mature specimens of Sabal palmetto, Rapidophylum hystrix, Sabal minor, and Seranoa repens. The forested landscape, winding trails, and wilderness feel, made this a worthwhile beginning to the exciting week ahead.

Just a short bus ride away, we next visited Archbold Biological Station, which is a working scientific research station comprised of 5000 acres of Florida scrub eco system. After a short and informative  introduction, we were lead on mini tours to see Sabal etonia, Serenoa repens, and the sand pine, Pinus clause. It was a tad bit warm at this stop and one of the few times we looked forward to getting back on the air conditioned buses.

The last stop of what had already been a full day was at the Searle Brothers Nursery. Jeff and Andrea Searle definitely rolled out the red carpet for the group and were the ultimate hosts. In addition to the fantastic nursery full of rare and exotic specialty palms, there was also a delicious Mexican food banquet ready for hungry and thirsty biennial attendees staffed by Jeff’s family and friends. A fantastic end to a full day.

Day Three
Monday morning saw us departing for Pinecrest Gardens, formerly Parrot Jungle showcasing a lush landscape of palms and other tropical vegetation. Walking the shady winding paths we saw Corypha umbraculifera, Licuala peltata var. sumawongii, Phytelephas macrocarpa, and Salacca zalacca. Nice water features complete with turtles and fish, complemented this leafy garden.

After an interesting box lunch, the next stop was Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The look and feel of this garden is second to none and is too large to try and see in one afternoon. Concentrating on one area seemed to be the best approach, so a few of us set out on a mini excursion to the Carribean section. The Coccothrinax, Pseudophoenix, Copernicia, Syagrus, and Attalea were spectacular. The mature palm specimens were so majestic and in almost perfect form, one could hardly take enough photos trying to capture what we were seeing. There were so many species neither of us had heard of and around every corner was a new surprise. One could easily lose track of time taking in the plant collections and broad vistas of turf and lakes that comprise this garden.

Scouting through the palm jungle we ran into the ‘Rat Pack’ contingent from Australia and spent the remainder of the afternoon meandering throughout the garden carrying on and doing a fair bit of laughing.

That evening we were treated to a generous buffet dinner and a most entertaining lecture about the history of Fairchild by the Garden director, Patrick Griffth. A complimentary flash drive with the historical adventures of Dr. Fairchild was given to all participants.

The festivities began with libation and hula dancers prior to the banquet. And what would a biennial be without a few volunteers to join in the hula troop, totally out of sync, but setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

Day Four and Day Five
Tuesday morning we headed for Everglades national park to tour a hammock full of native royal palm, Roystona regia, Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, and stands of tropical hardwoods. During our visit the wetland dominated by sawgrass,
(Cladium jamaicensis), that surrounded this hammock was in a dry cycle and the hungry mosquitos were provided with fresh food.

The road to the Florida Keys was beautiful with turquoise water on both sides interrupted by green patches of small islands. Power boats slicing through the blue green water on either side of us made the bus ride a bit more exciting.

Before reaching Key West, we made a stop at Silver Palm Trail at Bahia Honda State Park. Here we saw the largest natural concentration of the tall form of Coccothrinax argentata on a winding path just steps from a white sand beach. The walk gave us a chance to stretch our legs and admire the stands of these beautiful little palms.

The group finally arrived at the hotel in Key West late afternoon and after taking advantage of the inviting pool, lively bar, and a good meal, settled in for a good night sleep.

Wednesday was a free day and many of us either headed for the beach or into town to explore the many sights. Our great organizing crew arranged for some wonderful private gardens to be open for tours and finding them was half the fun. Tiny private yards packed with rare and unusual palms made this free day even more memorable.

The group finally arrived at the hotel in Key West late afternoon and after taking advantage of the inviting pool, lively bar, and a good meal, settled in for a good night sleep.

Day Six
Up early on a sultry Thursday morning, we headed for Punta Roquena, a 13 acre highlight of a garden with an interesting history. Originally called Pirates Point, legend has it that there is pirate treasure buried there. Located right on the water, this estate was full of mature specimens of Coccothrinax, Copernicia, Pseudophoenix, Zombia, Gastrococos, and so many other impressive palms and plants. A former owner, Baxter Gentry, was a board member of Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens and planted an extensive collection of palms and other tropical plants. The grounds were immaculate and so extensive, it was hard rounding up the sightseers when it came time to board the motor coaches.

Our last stop before lunch was Villa Paradiso. Located at the end of a cul de sac this little garden, facing a coastal waterway, had a nice collection of salt tolerant and rainforest palms. Accenting a beautiful swimming pool was a perfect specimen of Pseudophoenix sargentii that was the eye of every camera. The Copernicia again, as in so many south Florida gardens, were spectacular. 

Next on our agenda was the Bait Shack. This property was not what comes to mind when one thinks of a bait shack. Located behind a pair of chain link gates the property opened up into a beautiful landscaped garden with two handsome residences flanking each end. Again, the palm collection supurb, with mature Copernicia rigidaPseudophoenix, Coccothrinax, all well taken care of and picture worthy specimens.

The Copernicia gigas and Copernicia eckmanii were especially attractive and looking their best in the hot blazing sun.

One of the most memorable features of this property was the size of the pool cabana and the speed boats docked nearby. Recreation was obviously an important priority for these owners.



Day Seven & Day Eight ( Departure) 
Back in Miami, Friday morning found us at Block Botanical Garden. Dr. Block himself was there to welcome us, handing out souvenirs and answering the many questions about this hundred year old fruit grove. Many tropical palms such as Kerriodoxa, Cyrtostachys, Johannesteijsmannia, to name just a few, were highlighted by extensive collections of aroids, orchids, ferns, begonia, bromeliads, and epiphytes.  The enclosed pool and adjacent green houses were full of rare and exotic plants.
The docents on hand to direct us and answer questions was a nice and welcomed touch

Our final tour of the biennial, was Montgomery Botanical Center. This 120 acre garden has one of the finest collections of palms, cycads, and tropical conifers. Upon arrival we were treated to a sumptuous lunch catered courtesy IPS members Jill Menzel and John DeMott. The huge white tent provided welcomed shade while enjoying the food and great music from a live band.

After lunch we divided into groups, each with a guide, to show us the highlights of this magnificent botanic refuge. The collection of Carribean and South American palms and cycads were so impressive because of the mass plantings. There weren’t just one or two of everything, there were groves of each species. The guides were so knowledgeable and engaging and easily answered our numerous questions. After hours of seeing stands of Attalea, Bactris, Hemithrinax, Ravenea, Syagrus, cycads, huge tropical trees,120 acres was starting to wear most palmophiles out. With a final trek around a pond full of Nypa and a few wary alligators, this tired bunch headed for the transport to freshen up for the farewell banquet.

Like the beginning of a biennial, the farewell banquet is another special time. This is a chance to say farewell to old and new friends made over the previous week. After visiting and dining on yet another delicious buffet spread, we enjoyed an entertaining lecture by the director and a guide of Montgomery Botanical Center. The Dent Smith award was also presented to Libby Besse and posthumously to Jim Cain.