Big Pine Key is a haven for rare botanical species. The island is mostly protected by the National Key Deer Refuge, not originally because of the plants, but for the sake of the diminutive deer that have been turned back from extinction. But the refuge protects more than 80% of the remaining pine rocklands of the Florida Keys, and a handful of national champion trees, including locust-berry, Key tree cactus, velvet-seed , false boxwood, and manchineel. Solution holes in the karst host rare fern species.
Along Key Deer Blvd, stop at Blue Hole to canvass the karst surrounding this freshwater pool, then continue to the “Wildlife Trails” sign, where a walk on the Fred Manillo Trail and Jack Watson Wildlife Trail yield Florida thatch palms and silver palms amid the pine rocklands, blackbead in the understory, and endemics like Big Pine partridge pea and Garber’s spurge.
Off US 1 at the north end of Big Pine Key, turn onto Long Beach Road and follow it down to a rough gravel road leading into a portion of the refuge to explore a coastal prairie with bay cedar.