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Garden Highlights

We invite you to take a “scroll” through MBG and enjoy some of the stories behind our favorite display gardens and the plants that make them so great. We hope you learn something new about the Garden, and have something new to look out for on your next visit!

Where do we get the name “Mounts” from?

Marvin “Red” Mounts – For 40 years, the entire farming community of Palm Beach County received invaluable assistance from Marvin Umphrey “Red” Mounts. He was born in Oklahoma in 1898 at the family’s sod farm house. After he graduated from agricultural college at the University of Florida in 1925, Mounts was hired as Palm Beach County’s first assistant agricultural extension agent. His territory covered 1,261,000 acres.

Mounts encouraged farm families to expand their usual crops of green beans and tomatoes to a variety of tropical fruits and up to 18 vegetables to improve their health as well as their finances. He introduced a grass for cattle grazing that held up on wet soil, investigated the best fertilizers and pesticides, and taught farmers about marketing. He showed cattlemen how to breed Cracker cows with beefier types from up north and how to fatten them faster with new strains of grasses. He collected soil samples and helped identify which nutrients were needed.

When not in the field, Mounts would compile farming statistics, lecture to garden clubs, and preach the gospel of agriculture at school career days. Mounts also formed the first chartered 4-H Club in Florida and helped to establish the Audubon Society of the Everglades. In his early days on the job, it  took Red Mounts two days to travel from his office in the county courthouse to the Glades (Everglades Agricultural Area) using barges and the Conners Toll Road, now Southern Boulevard. When the Palm Beach County Agricultural Extension Agency moved to Military Trail in 1954, the new building was named for Mounts, as was the adjacent Mounts Botanical Garden. Marvin “Red” Mounts died in 1969.

A Welcoming Entrance

Found throughout the display gardens, and notably around the oak tree by the Mounts Building, our signature plant welcomes you to the Garden. You may recognize it from our logo or its recent rise in popularity on tropical merchandise, but it is the monstera (Monstera deliciosa).

The deliciosa name refers to the delicious edible fruit, and monstera is a reference to the monstrous size this plant can grow to (over 30 ft.)! The ripened fruit tastes similar to jackfruit and pineapple. These plants require high humidity which make it a great plant for Florida.

Hanging from the pillars are pitcher plants (Nepenthes) some of which may contain a small frog. Also known as Monkey Cups or Pitfall Traps, these are carnivorous plants with a deep pitcher like cavity. The sides of the pitcher are slippery so prey can’t escape.

Pitcher plants tend to grow in nutrient poor soil so they need an alternative way to get their nutrients. Most catch insects, but larger ones can even catch amphibians and small rodents. Inside the pitcher, bacteria aids in digestion of prey. The plant can also benefit from the high nitrogen content of the feces from amphibians, lizards, and bats who eat the insects that are attracted by the pitchers. 

The Eigelberger Tropical Foliage Border

The gentle curve of this garden contrasts with the formality of many landscapes commonly encountered. This border demonstrates the possibilities for a narrow swatch of garden space. Whether along a building or edge of a deep shade element the palms, bromeliads, and other colorful plant material give maximum impact. Relying heavily on colorful foliage, this garden design has a visual impact that lasts year-round. The heavy ground layer used here is an effective alternative to finding suitable groundcover in our sub-tropical climate.

Welcoming you to take a stroll on the grass path of this garden, is a Garden icon, a bronze sculpture entitled Educating Sarah. This sculpture by artist Robert St. Croix was presented as gift to the Garden in 1998 by Joseph Shearouse and family in honor of his late wife, Daphne. Daphne had been a longtime supporter of the Garden as a board member, volunteer, and Master Gardener. She worked to develop children’s programming and was the inspiration for the Treasure Trek map.

The Carnavon Gorge Cycad (Macrozamia moorei) helps to bring a ‘Jurassic Park’ vibe to this display garden. Cycads are a modern plant from prehistoric times. These seed plants are typically characterized by a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large leaves. Typically slow to grow, cycads have an incredibly long lifetime. These cycads are one of the icons of the Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland, Australia where they get their name.

Herb Garden of Well Being

The Herb Garden’s design was created by horticulturist and former executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden, Holly Shimizu. The garden is designed to showcase and tell the story of herbs and spices in the tropics and sub-tropics through a traditional, formal garden and a contrasting, informal garden.

The formal area of the Herb Garden is broken down into four sections centered around a low bubbling fountain: herbs used for flavoring, herbs used for teas, herbs used in ceremonies, and herbs used for health. Located on the trellis behind the fountain, is the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia). This flat leaved orchid species is where commercial vanilla flavoring is derived for both the food and cosmetic industries, and is the only orchid widely used for industrial purposes.

Just outside the formal garden’s border of bay rum (Pimenta racemose), you can find a tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica). Native to tropical Africa, the tamarind tree is known for its fruit pods. The pulp inside of the pod dehydrates to a sticky paste that is used for juices, sweets, chutneys and seasonings. It is a major ingredient in Worchestershire Sauce. After the 2004 hurricanes destroyed 70% of the tree canopy of the Garden, much of the wood was crafted by the Palm Beach County Woodturners into pieces that could be sold as a fundraiser. Woodturner Brian Rosencrantz created a piece entitled the Heart of Mounts comprised of a “heart” made from Argentinian Quebracho suspended inside a Tamarind exterior.

O’Keeffe Rain Garden

A rain garden is a planted depression that allows rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas like roofs, driveways, walkways, parking lots, and compacted lawn areas the opportunity to be absorbed. This reduces rain runoff by allowing storm water to soak into the ground (as opposed to flowing into storm drains and surface waters which causes erosion, water pollution, flooding, and diminished groundwater). The purpose of a rain garden is to improve water quality in nearby bodies of water. Rain gardens can cut down on the amount of pollution reaching creeks and streams by up to 30%. The O’Keeffe Rain Garden catches run off from the parking lot at the Clayton E. Hutcheson Agricultural Complex, preventing the water from going directly into Lake Orth.

Native plants are recommended for rain gardens because they generally don’t require fertilizer and are more tolerant of one’s local climate, soil, and water conditions, and attract local wildlife such as native birds. Root systems enhance infiltration, maintain or even augment soil permeability, provide moisture redistribution, and sustain diverse microbial populations involved in bio-filtration. Through the process of transpiration, rain garden plants also return water vapor to the atmosphere. 

You’ll find a collection of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) among the plants in the O’Keeffe Rain Garden. These massive trees are happy to grow in a range of soils – wet, dry, or swampy. Root outgrowths known as cypress knees were once thought to provide oxygen to the underwater roots, but are now thought to provide stabilization and help prevent soil erosion. Their feathery foliage turns reddish in the fall and for a significant portion of the year leave the tree “bald.” 

The bald cypress provides a quintessential Everglades swamp aesthetic, but it cannot compete with the sabal palm (Sabal palmetto) for Florida icon status. The state tree of Florida, the sabal palm is one of 15 species of palmetto palm. A remarkably resilient tree, its ability to bend in high winds and tolerate coastal conditions makes it great for the Florida hurricane season. Also known as a cabbage palm, the heart of the new fronds can be consumed. Heart of palm as found on menus and at grocery stores is however harvested from other palm species, as the removal of the sabal palm cabbage kills the tree.

Signature Ridge

The crown jewels of Mounts Botanical Garden look down on Lake Orth from their shady ridge. This garden features a combination of large trees that could all be a defining point in a landscape on their own. 

Also called the flame tree, the royal poinciana (Delonix regia) provides dappled shade in the summer with wide, spreading branches and brilliantly-colored flowers. Although they can also come in orange or yellow, both royal poincianas along Lake Orth bloom red. These Madagascar natives have large bean pods that make a rattling sound when a strong gust of wind blows. Although a beautiful tree to relax beneath, it has an incredibly large root system that will create problems for sidewalks and homeowners alike.

Named for the silky floss that forms around the seed pods, the silk floss (Ceiba speciosa) is covered in large, sharp thorns with a greenish tint to its bark. These thorns serve as miniature water storage units that help the tree to survive during droughts. When flowering, the canopy is covered in large pink speckled flowers.

Signature Ridge is known for the shady canopies and beautiful sounds of rustling leaves, and the Burmese rosewood (Dalbergia oliveriis no exception. The rosewood has delicate oval pointed leaflets and a beautiful canopy that can reach a 40-ft spread. Rosewood is an important timber tree, used for fine furniture and guitars.

The Butterfly Garden

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia)

The butterfly garden is home to a vast collection of plants that provide crucial resources for butterflies. Host plants are a site for adult butterflies to lay eggs on and provide a food source for the emerging caterpillars. Nectar plants provide a food source for adult butterflies and other pollinators. Let’s take a look at some of the common butterfly and plant species relationships that are found at Mounts Botanical Garden.

Milkweed (Asclepias) is a group of plants named for their milky sap and are an important nectar source and a host plant for butterflies. Milkweed is the only plant material that monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippuscaterpillars can eat, making it crucial for the survival of the monarch species. The monarch butterfly is known for its annual migration from Canada to Mexico. Monarch butterflies are foul tasting and poisonous due to the milkweed that they consume as caterpillars and there are a number of other butterfly species that mimic their coloring as a defense mechanism.

Atala Butterfly (Eumaeus atala)

Much like the relationship between the milkweed and the monarch butterfly, the atala butterfly (Eumaeus atalarelies on cycads for its caterpillars. As the only native cycad to North America, the coontie plant (Zamia pumilawas the sole host plant for the atala. Overharvested as a source of starch, the decline of the coontie or Florida arrowroot as it is also called, led to the belief that the atala butterfly was extinct until a small colony was discovered in 1979 near Miami. With the dedicated work of scientists and local citizens, the atala butterfly population has recovered tremendously.

The zebra longwing (Heliconius charithonia) was designated the state butterfly of Florida in 1996. Marked by its black and pale yellow stripes, the wings of this butterfly are long and narrow. The zebra longwing uses a variety of passion flower (Passifloraas its larval host. The adults are known for their long lifespan (several months) and roost in groups in the same location each night.

Another of the common butterflies gliding from plant to plant, the cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae) is a smallish light yellow butterfly. The caterpillars can use various sennas and peas as host plants, such as American Senna (Senna hebecarpa).

Florida Natives Garden

The use of native plants in landscapes is Florida-friendly and helps preserve the state’s natural resources. Increasingly, our native birds, butterflies and wildlife rely on gardeners to replace natural habitat lost to development. Native plants provide the food, cover and nesting sites these species so vitally need.

Firebush (Hamelia patens) is a favorite nectar plant of zebra longwing butterflies, this shrub produces bright red flowers from late spring until winter. It can be used in home gardens as a hedge or a stand-alone shrub while providing a food source for native butterflies and hummingbirds. Be wary of what you purchase for your yard, as a marketed variety of dwarf firebush (H. patens var. glabra), which is shorter and produces lighter colored flowers, is a non-native.

There are 12 palm species that are native to Florida including our state tree, the sabal palm (Sabal palmetto). A Florida native may also be native to other regions and the sabal palm is an example of that, it is also the state tree of South Carolina. Two of the palms are endemic to Florida, which means they are only found in this region and nowhere else. Florida’s endemic palms are closely related; the scrub palm (Sabal etonia) is still found commonly in the wild and the Miami palm (Sabal miamiensiswhich may already be extinct in the wild.

One of the many palms located in the Natives Garden is the silver thatch palm (Coccothrinax argentata). This medium sized fan palm comes with a variety of common names. The silver tone to the underside of the leaves gives it its most popular name. The thatch palm can be found commonly in the Florida Keys and stretches up to southern Palm Beach County in areas of open forest close to the coast.

The courtyard at the east entrance won the 2008 Award of Honor from the Florida Native Plant Society for Institutional Native Plant Display. This garden is anchored by four pigeon plums (Coccoloba diversifolia), a medium-size tree that is a great shade provider for South Florida yards. Pigeon plum trees have a high drought tolerance and high salt tolerance. Their shade is well worth the mess they create by dropping their berries in the winter. The courtyard features an interesting display of trees, palms, shrubs, groundcovers and vines. The mixed hedges demonstrate how eleven native species may be used in combination.

Lake Orth

The Garden’s main pathway makes a loop around Lake Orth. The water feature provides a beautiful reflecting surface for trees in bloom. The lake is named for Henry Orth, who played a key role in the development of Mounts Botanical into the Garden we know today. Henry Orth was the 1982 President of the Palm Beach Chapter of the Rare Fruit Council and his involvement led him to serve in various roles on the board of directors for the newly formed Friends of Mounts Botanical Garden.

Lake Orth is home to many species of fish, turtles, and birds, but the Garden’s collection of koi fish steal the show. Koi fish are known for their beautiful colors and patterns and are kept in garden ponds across the globe. The koi fish is a variety of carp (Cyprinus carpio) distinguished only by its coloration, patterning, and scalation. Carp have a long history of being selectively bred to promote natural mutations. Selective breeding in China over a thousand years ago of the Prussian carp led to the development of the goldfish. The development of koi patterns that are seen in the fish today trace back to Japan in the 1800s. The word koi is short form of “nishiki-goi” or “embossed carp fish” in reference to the art of “nishiki,” to brocade fabric.

The first three koi fish introduced to Lake Orth are still swimming around today enjoying fish food from visitors. The original trio (Speedy, Buttercup, and Sunshine) have since been joined by plenty of friends and the lake today is home to an estimated 75 koi fish.

Sun Garden of Extremes

This garden features plants and materials often unique to extremes: high light, very low soil moisture and fertility, and often relentless drying winds. Many situations such as this exist in Palm Beach County, often closer to the coastline. Most plants featured in this garden not only tolerate extremes, they must have extremes to prosper.

Giving height to the garden are the Dr. Seuss-esque ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvate)A native of Mexico, the ponytail palm is distinguished by its stout trunk and ponytail-like tops.  It is not a true palm, rather a succulent plant that stores excess water in its often enormous bottle-like trunk giving it the nickname elephant foot tree.

Succulent vs. Cactus: Although both terms refer to plants that are hardy and drought tolerant. The term succulent refers to an informal group of plants with fleshy tissue designed to preserve moisture. Succulents are represented in over 40 botanical families. The term cactus refers to plant species from the Cactaceae family who are distinguished by their fleshy stems that store water, prickly or hairy coverings, and few or no leaves.

Agave are some of the most commonly planted succulents. Now commonly used as a sweetener, agave was popularized in the home by Agave tequilana, the base ingredient in tequila. Agave have a multitude of adaptations to survive extreme conditions, and the octopus century plant (Agave vilmoriniana) is no exception. The tendrils of this agave are green-gray and arch outward from the center of the plant, giving the appearance of an octopus. They serve an important survival purpose, the long reach captures a larger area of rainfall and the channels in each tendril direct the water back to the base of the plant maximizing potential water intake for each rainfall event.

With limits on resources, watering a garden can become an issue. This garden provides a solution and utilizes plants that require a minimum use of water. The use of drought-tolerant species is designed to give a feeling of a lush green landscape without tapping into precious water resources. With the right plant selection, a garden like this can go for weeks without watering. 

The Pines

This display garden gets its name from the tall slash pines (Pinus elliottiiwhich give way to a beautiful view across Lake Orth. A Florida native, slash pines are a major canopy tree for the pine forests of South Florida. The life cycle of a pine forest is dependent on fire; native plants in this ecosystem thrive after fire with the removal of non-native pests and invasive competition. The slash pine has an element of fire resistance with its thick bark which flakes to dissipate heat.

Creating a shade canopy over the path is a series of queen’s crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia speciosa). The queen’s crape myrtle is the largest of the crape myrtles with large, lilac-purple drooping flower clusters that bloom in the summer. Just on the other side of the tunnel of crape myrtle is a collection of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), a familiar sight across South Florida. It is highly salt-tolerant and tolerates a wide range of conditions and supports native wildlife. Saw palmetto brings a great texture in a landscape underneath a new or established tree and also creates a fantastic backdrop for sculpture in the Garden.

Bird in a Tree by Gert Oslen

Gert Olsen’s Bird in a Tree is framed by the saw palmetto of the Pines. Olsen started as a carpenter who made wood carvings in his spare time and fell in love with marble in the 1980s during a trip to Italy’s quarries. He works with the natural texture and color of the stone to create representative sculpture of animals, human forms, and abstract shapes. This Jupiter based artist has strong ties with Mounts Botanical Garden, his wife Shelia is a long time volunteer.

Rose & Fragrance Garden

The design of this landscape adds a new dimension to a beautiful garden. The artful arrangement of plants pleases the eye while scent brings another element into play, creating an unforgettable experience. From softly scented leaves to heavily perfumed tropical flowers; fragrance adds another level of indulgence to this garden. Roses, often called ‘the world’s most popular flower,’ add a touch of elegance as well as familiarity of color and additional fragrance.

The angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia) gets its name from its large, fragrant flowers that resemble a trumpet pointed down to earth. Don’t let the name mask the fact that the plant is one of the most toxic of ornamental plants, even banned from sale in some areas. Mounts Botanical is home to a beautiful collection including orange, pink, and white variants located in the Rose & Fragrance Garden.

Plumeria can be found throughout the Garden but a few varieties are located in the center of the Rose & Fragrance Garden. Also known as Frangipani, a name that comes from a 16th century Italian nobleman who created a perfume with a similar scent, the blooms of the plumeria can be white, pink, red, yellow, or bicolored. The flowers are very fragrant and primarily release their scent in the evening as they are pollinated by night-flying moths. The five rounded overlapping petals may be recognizable from their use in leis on many Pacific Islands.

Children’s Maze

Hedge mazes evolved from the knot gardens of Renaissance Europe. Today, living mazes continue to delight children and adults alike. The maze at Mounts Botanical is comprised of orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata), a compact evergreen shrub with fragrant spring blooms. The hedges are planted and arranged in a pattern, providing simple branching pathways and choices.

Standing in the center of the maze is a Bo tree (Ficus religiosa), also referred to as a Bodhi tree. According to Buddhist tradition, this is the species of tree under which Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher who became known as the Buddha sat when he attained Enlightenment or Bodhi. Within Hinduism, the Bodhi Tree is said to represent Pushya, one of the 27 constellations. Bo Trees can be distinguished by their signature heart shaped leaf and have an incredibly long life span with some trees being estimated to be over 2,000 years old. A larger Bo Tree exists between the Pines and Signature Ridge.

The Great Lawn & Cutting Corners

This open area in the back of the Garden is the site of many events. Currently, the great lawn is home to Cutting Corners, a willow Stickwork sculpture by Patrick Dougherty.

Cutting Corners officially opened at Mounts Botanical Garden on January 29th, 2019 after a three week community build. 

Combining his carpentry skills with his love of nature, Patrick Dougherty began to learn more about primitive techniques of building and to experiment with tree saplings as construction material. In 1982 his first work, Maple Body Wrap, was included in the North Carolina Biennial Artists’ Exhibition, sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Art. In the following year, he had his first one-person show entitled, Waitin’ It Out in Maple at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 

His work quickly evolved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental scale environmental works, which required saplings by the truckloads. Over the last thirty years, he has built over 250 of these works, and become internationally acclaimed. His sculpture has been seen worldwide- –from Scotland to Japan to Brussels, and all over the United States. 

Cutting Corners was constructed from approximately 30,000 pounds of willow that was delivered to the Garden from upstate New York. Mr. Dougherty works alongside his son, Sam, and they were assisted by a team of 106 local volunteers.

Climbing up one of the sabal palms next to Cutting Corners is a queen of the night cactus (Selenicereus grandiflorous). Its Latin name is a reference to the fact that when it was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, it was the largest flowered species of cacti. 

Begonia Garden

Although begonias can be found in many of the display gardens, the Begonia Garden highlights this popular foliage plant. The begonia family contains more than 1,300 species and hybrids. Begonias are terrestrial understory herbs native to the tropics. Of the seven groups of begonias, the University of Florida recommends wax, cane, and rhizomatous begonias for the Florida gardener looking to include the plant in their home landscape. Preferring bright filtered light, these plants grow well under trees or on screened patios. They prefer warm temperatures, humidity, and moist, well-drained soil.

Although they are the star of this display garden, you will find more than just begonias in this area. On the edge of the Begonia Garden, a forest bell creeper (Tecomanthe dendrophylla) climbs up the monkey pod tree. Also called the New Guinea Trumpet Vine, this woody climber forms dramatic, bright pink blooms directly on the woody stem of the plant.

Instrumental Extension Agents

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the Cooperative Extension Service, a partnership between land grant colleges nationwide, as a means for disseminating and implementing research-based information from land-grant universities, including the University of Florida. The transfer of knowledge from the university to people throughout the state is facilitated by Extension Agents located in each of Florida’s 67 counties. This partnership between counties and the university is the heart of the Cooperative Extension Service mission and enables the university to extend its knowledge base to each community. Mounts Botanical Garden would not exist without Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension and the development of the Garden goes beyond Red Mounts.

Clayton Hutcheson earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fruit crops at the University of Florida. His intention was to become a citrus grower, but after a few years with Extension, helping people is what appealed to him. In 1975, Hutcheson joined the Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension as the county’s first Extension Director. He was instrumental in the development of PBC Extension and the growth of the small trial plantings into a demonstration garden. The building that houses a majority of the Extension offices, Garden office, and Exhibit Hall is named in his honor.

As an Extension Agent, Gene Joyner was responsible for developing the home horticulture program and was instrumental into the development of what had been a 3.5-acre horse pasture into a garden. Joyner is a local legend of plant information known not just for his work as an Extension Agent but his radio show and Unbelievable Acres Botanic Garden with its extensive collection of tropical fruit. His personality and connections with growers all over the world helped Mounts Botanical Garden develop from horse pasture to garden in the 1970s.

Zimmerman Shade and Color Island

The planting compositions of the Island are designed to display how color can still be achieved in a shady area. The plants utilized provide color through foliage, diverse texture and flowers. Ferns, begonias and bromeliads are essential components to accomplishing the main goal of the garden. The Zimmerman Color & Shade Island went through a major landscape improvement beginning in fall of 2007. Past Mounts board member and landscape architect, Connie Roy Fisher, provided the new design. The Island was completely replanted, cap stone installed on its eastern flanks, and new concrete walks poured.

As part of the renovation, Lungo Mare, also known as the Escofet Bench, was added to provide a structural element important to any garden design. Of modular conceptual beauty, design and function, the bench is the brainchild of the Escofet Architectural Concrete Company established in 1886. The bench arrived at Mounts Botanical from the company’s headquarters in Barcelona, Spain in 2009 and had to be craned into place. 

The Escofet Bench is not the only piece of art on the Island that represents the intersection of human interaction, art, and garden design. My Lovely Distraction was completed in 2012 by artist Mark T. Fuller and includes the access bridge and the lake overlook. Orange accents reference flowering plants and trees in the area and the railing’s delicate leaf patterns provide maximum visibility to the beautiful surroundings. Next time you cross the bridge, keep an eye out for the Arabian lilac (Vitex trifolia ‘Purpurea’), a large shrub that makes an excellent accent in any landscape with a stunning lilac color on the underside of its leaves.

More garden features will be posted weekly!