Land of the Lost

Some of the world’s rarest plants get sensitive treatment at the Montgomery Botanical Center.

By Richard Banks | Photos By Chad Husby, Montgomery Botanical Center

The center's staff uses a Massey Ferguson® 2650 to cut the 45 acres of grass growing under and around the plant collection.

The center’s staff uses a Massey Ferguson® 2650 to cut the 45 acres of grass growing under and around the plant collection.

Located just 20 minutes from Florida’s famed South Beach, the Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) is home to some of the world’s rarest plants, some of which are even extinct in the wild.

“We have 12,598 plants on the grounds,” representing about 1,200 species, says MBC Executive Director Patrick Griffith. Specimens on the center’s 120 acres include palms, like the Canary Island Date, Cuban Royal and Jamaican Royal (seen in the photo), as well as flowering trees and cycads—plants that look like a cross between a palm and fern, and have changed little from the time of the dinosaurs.

Since its founding in 1959, MBC, whose mission focuses on conservation, education and research, has added to its world-renowned plant collection through donations and field excursions. Specimens come from across the globe, many of them endangered, such as the Talipot Rendah palm. Native to the jungles of Bangladesh, the last of these giant palms known to be growing in the wild was mistakenly cut down in 1979.

“It’s a beautiful plant,” says Griffith. “It grows for about 80 years, flowers only once and then it dies,” but not before it produces many thousands of seeds.

MBC is home to 13 of the 20 such palms left on the planet. “The ones we have are only about 18 years old … and they really need our help in order to survive.” To that end, MBC plays host to scientists from around the world who research the center’s collections and detailed records. The center also has some 20 volunteers and a staff of 25—15 of whom work on the grounds and, incidentally, use a Massey Ferguson® 2650 to cut the 45 acres of grass growing under and around the center’s valuable and often delicate inhabitants.

The tractor is not only precise in steering and handling, it has also provided MBC a “great efficiency gain,” says Griffith. “It’s an awesome machine.”

The use of a tractor isn’t the only thing Griffith and crew have in common with farmers and homesteaders. “We have a lot of permitting from the agriculture departments,” he notes, only half-jokingly.

“And you may say that, at that fundamental and personal level, what we do also requires a very sensitive and productive relationship with the land. We’re growing plants, and the basic cultivation techniques are absolutely the same as you’d see at an orchard.”

VIDEO: See more at the Montgomery Botanical Center YouTube channel >>