“Sweet Fairchild of Mine”

by ESP on April 1, 2012 · 13 comments

I recently visited the infamous Fairchild tropical botanical garden in Coral Gables, Florida, adorning completely inappropriate flip flops and shockingly long toenails. 

I only became aware of my rather hostile toenail situation when I had a little time to kill before hopping onto the tour cart that was to ferry myself and some other visitors around the garden’s grounds. I am not an unhygienic person but cutting my toenails requires some thoughtful planning, soaking, a few makeshift medieval implements and some pairs of industrial goggles for everybody’s safety in the local vicinity.  It was an ordeal that apparently, of late, I had regretfully neglected.

In an attempt to hide my enhanced talons I dashed (as best as I could) to the very end row of the last carriage and immediately stretched my legs out, subtly hiding my Nosferatoes underneath the seats in front of me.

I even offered up a fake stretch just to render more credence to my lounging actions…we were almost off, but not before a spot of history:

Fairchild was founded in 1936 and gets its name from one of the most famous plant explorers in history, David Fairchild (1869-1954). David was an American writer, botanist and plant explorer who introduced more than 20,000 exotic plants and varieties of established crops into the United States. Dr. Fairchild retired to Miami in 1935 and three years later, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden opened its 83 acres to the public for the first time.

The garden featured colorful sculptures by artist Will Ryman, this installation is called ICON, and it is constructed from fiberglass, stainless steel and colored with marine paint. His work was scattered all around the gardens.

Just before the tour cart set off, I took full advantage of a short delay as some tourists shuffled around playing musical chairs. I totally related to their psychological plight after having countless ordeals myself with my family when faced with the formidable and apparently daunting phenomena of the ubiquitous empty restaurant table.

I jumped off the train and quickly captured this…

…a massive Rainbow Eucalyptus tree,

Eucalyptus deglupta

Most Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia, this one originates from Papua New Guinea and the colors were really something.

The bark peels off layer by layer, the olive surface inside the tree gradually turns blue then purple then and finally brick red as it is exposed to air,

giving it a very painted Edvard Munch quality. It reminded me of the winter skies on those paint-by-number kits I used to do when I was young. (Snort)

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

After the guided tour, I went off on a flip-flop-footed adventure of my own. In no time I was passing all manner of new and interesting forms.

Like the female cones of this Encephalaetos Ferox cycad from South Africa,

here is another one dropping its large crimson colored glossy seeds.

The large colorful blooms on this Brownea or handkerchief tree (so called because the drooping tassels of its young leaves resemble limp handkerchiefs). Brownea trees grow well in gardens all over southern Florida and are hummingbird magnets, naturally.

The question is…can it really beat frost-bitten hoja santa in the soiled handkerchief looking department?

…surely (s)not (ahem)!

I passed through large rain forests,

with secluded water groves.

The rainforest area housed lots of epiphyte orchids and exotic coral-like blooms and fruit,

from the likes of this Cannonball Tree.

At night the flowers become particularly pungent to attract swift flying pollinators.

When the tree’s cannonballs clash in the wind they sound like artillery fire.

“Oh come on Sid”!

When the fruit falls (hopefully well away from anyone’s noggin…they do kill) and cracks open, it emits a rather foul stench.  Passing animals whiff the aroma, eat the fruit and pass the seeds through their digestive system, you know how that all goes.

Massive palm fronds…and tiny anoles were also abundant.

Fairchild garden is a must-stop,

especially if you like cycads and palms, (I am now really coveting the gunmetal Bismark Palm).

Bismarckia nobilis


The genus is named for the first chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, and not for the color of the warship as I had assumed.

When I saw the palm paired with a mass-planting of purple heart around its base, I was immediately sold. Now why did I not take that picture?

More exotics…

this bat flower,

Tacca chantrieri

was one of the more flamboyant, as was this incredible glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly.

End of the Day Tower, 2005

Now THAT is a bottle-tree!

I will leave you with this life-sized sculpture of Majory Stoneman Douglas, one of America’s greatest conservationists. The existence of the Everglades National Park is largely due to her efforts.

Douglas lived until age 108, working until nearly the end of her life for Everglades restoration.

I walked around Fairchild for about four hours straight and covered numerous miles. I witnessed an alligator lounging at the side of one of the remote walkways and had a large, and I do mean large, lizard scare me into a ridiculous Ministry-of-Silly-Walks stumble out of the Madagascar garden and into the full sight of the people on the next tour cart.

Some of them waved at me nervously as they passed, my disheveled appearance affording the look of a potential tourist-cart highwayman, I am sure.  My flip-flopped feet hurt, I was dripping with sweat, but at least my Nosferatoe nails had significantly diminished in size, I assume to abrasion…it was time to go home.

Stay Tuned for:

“I Sand Corrected


All material © 2012 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by late (and extremely unpleasant)
14th century planet Earth techniques.


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1 Toni - Signature Gardens April 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm

You are the funniest dork garden blogger I have Never met! You just crack me up! Wow, that Eucalyptus tree bark is gorgeous. Looks like the claws of a dinosaur or something — well, as I imagine they would look having never seen one in person. Or maybe that’s what your “claws” looked like?? Thanks again for the laugh. Truly, I laugh out loud whenever I read your posts. Maybe I’m the dork.

2 ESP April 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Hi Toni.

Glad you find them amusing, this stuff happens to me all the time.

They had a few of these rainbow Eucalypyus trees in the park, this one was certainly the oldest Ent, I have never seen anything quite like this before! The picture also does not do the colors or saturation justice, I would have used some color enhancement on the photo but I do not have access to my tools at the moment…and if I did, I would have most likely used them on my “Nosferatoes”…now that one cracked me up when I wrote it :-)

The tree has a real film “prop” look to it, a bit Disney…but because it is real, totally cool.



3 katina April 1, 2012 at 9:24 pm

1. “Nosferatoes” – well done good sir, well done. I hope you realize that I will be using this term with regularity
2. The giant rose sculptures make me think of Alice in Wonderland
3. I’m sure Ms. Douglas was a perfectly nice woman, so why did the artist decide to make her look like a zombie?
4. How big were those red seeds? In my head I pretend that each kernel is the size of your hand.
5. Awesome pictures. Awesome.

4 ESP April 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Hi Katina.
1) Thank you ma’am, and feel free to use the term…but surely you never have Nosferatoes!
2) The scale of these sculptures were really something, and yes, they were very Alice in Wonderland looking.
3) I had the same “Shaun of the Dead” reaction to her life-sized sculpture. Brrr.
4) They were large, not quite that large, but very impressive non-the-less.
5) Thank you, and thank you, I love my point and click!

5 Pam/Digging April 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Sounds like you really NAILED that visit, ESP. Now where the heck is Coral Gables? I need to orient myself. I visited Naples Botanical Garden on the Gulf Coast side of FL a few years back. It was quite something, like a technicolor dream. And I do recall there were alligator warning signs along the lake. Brr!

6 ESP April 2, 2012 at 7:37 am

(Splutters, winces and points at Pam pulling an absurd expression whilst smashing a cymbal:-)…

Coral Gables is just before Coconut grove if you are heading south on South Dixie Highway…(South Miami). Fairchild is worth the visit, best to get there early like most things in Florida. They are currently in the process of expanding the facility and are opening a large laboratory where the visitors will be able to watch palm DNA extraction and other fun things going on.

The alligator I walked passed was only a small one, still I gave it a wide birth.

7 Diana April 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm

What great outrageous and amazing plants. They are so lush – Wish we had those giant leaves here.

8 ESP April 2, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Hi Diana, they were indeed giant and lush, especially in the rainforest area. It is a pity that we do not get the regular rainfall that Florida does, imagine what we could grow.

9 Les April 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm

I too fell in lust with the Bismark Palm on a trip to Florida. Between waiting in line for the rides at Universal in Orlando, I was plotting a way to move my family to anywhere they would grow, though the wife would hear not of it. My brother just bought a place in Lauderdale and I have already googled how far Fairchild is from his place. I will get there.

10 ESP April 3, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Hi Les.

Yes, love the Bismark palm, l am now infatuated with this cultivar, oh, and I will have it in the Patch, it is now a must-have palm!
Fairchild garden is only a 45 minuite trip from Ft Lauderdale, and well worth the trip…you should definately go for it, you will not be dissapointed. It is a fantastic garden to visit.

Just be sure and wear appropriate footwear, and adorn appropriate toenail etiquette, unlike me!


11 Bob Pool April 3, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Nosferatoes, now that was funny, I don’t care who you are. I guess you have never noticed my thumb nails. I keep them very long. None of my other nails, just the thumbs. I’ll explain it when I see you some time. Lyn refers to them as my raptor claws.

The old lady sculpture didn’t do her any favors. My Grannie’s legs looked bad but lordy, not that bad.

I got one question, did you stick any seeds in your pockets? You can tell me later if you need to.

12 ESP April 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Nosferatoes indeed…ridiculous!
Your thumb nails? Hmm, either subterranean digging Bob? Or perhaps some obscure guitar-playing technique? I wonder what could those “raptor claws” are being used for?…The mind boggles.
Seeds in my pocket? From a Florida botanical garden?
You know me only too well:-)

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