The saga of this wonderfully diverse tropical forest and garden dates back to 1936, when unemployed workers employed by the WPA created a 55-acre botanical garden on Stock Island. During World War II, the military took over the land until the garden diminished to 8 acres and was abandoned.
Thankfully, a group of dedicated volunteers revived what is now considered one of the top 25 biological hot spots in the world, according to UNESCO. Some of the more significant trees here include the National Champion Cuban lignumvitae tree, a dwarf lignumvitae, Florida thatch palms more than a century old, and the oldest known wild cinnamon tree in the Keys.
Learn about the biodiversity of the Keys at the visitor center, then grab a trail map and wander through the habitats. This is the southernmost natural tropical forest in the United States, and now sets the stage for beautiful native plantings along a meandering series of trails and boardwalks. Some of the trails meander through formal gardens and groves, but most ramble through the native woodlands, including a loop around a natural freshwater pond.
Art is an important part of the gardens, with installations from regional artists adding a touch of whimsy. A significant collection of Cuban chugs, which helped fleeing Cubans to freedom, is also on display.