Vizcaya’s diverse horticultural collections range from 400-year-old trees nestled in endangered subtropical forests to an orchid collection numbering over 2,000 specimens. Our living collections are managed similarly to our art collection—plants are catalogued, researched and conserved.
When Vizcaya was built, some of the property was covered in dense subtropical forest, now called rockland hammock. This forest consists of plants and trees that adapted to growing on coral rock. Never a widespread ecosystem in Miami, the native forest was almost entirely razed for development. James Deering saw this occurring and made a conscious decision to preserve the forest, building his mansion next to the water instead.
The forest is now home to many endangered plants, such as The Redberry Stopper, Eugenia confusa; Bitterbush, Picramnia pentandra; and the Brittle Maidenhair Fern Adiantum tenerum. Some plants found here exist in only one or two other places in the world. Vizcaya’s forest is also home to 8 known national champion trees; the largest of their kind in the United States.
Deering also saved a portion of the once-extensive mangrove forests that lined the shoreline of the property. He recognized that these trees protect the gardens from salt air and wind, and this forest still shelters the gardens today. Vizcaya actively manages our forests to ensure their long-term health; and to help perpetuate these plants, we allow limited seed harvests every year.
After the land was cleared, Vizcaya’s extensive and elaborate gardens were built, taking almost eight years. During construction, numerous fully-grown trees were harvested from other properties owned by Deering. Among them were massive live oaks that were transported to Vizcaya and lifted onto the top of the Garden Mound, where they remain today.
Deering even paid $1,500 to save a large strangler fig from imminent destruction. The tree was relocated, hauled to Vizcaya by barge and planted in the gardens—only to blow down in a thunderstorm some months later.
Vizcaya’s patron also purchased over one hundred Royal Palms from Cuba and brought them to Vizcaya by boat. One remaining palm is a Florida Challenger, the 4th largest Royal Palm. To record their existing locations and sizes and to help maintain their health, we recently began to enter these historic trees in Vizcaya’s plant database.
Nestled among the forest are elaborately maintained parterres and shrub borders that are filled with unusual plants such as the Peach Palm, Bactris mexicana; the Giant Elephant Ear, Alocasia ‘Borneo Giant’; and the humorously named flowering lily - Crinum ‘Regina’s Disco Lounge.’
Mr. Deering loved orchids, had large greenhouses to encourage their bloom for cut flower arrangements and specifically requested that live orchid plants be attached to the trees around the north side of his house.
Orchids still have a prominent presence at Vizcaya, thanks to the David A. Klein Foundation, which funds Vizcaya’s orchid program. Greenhouses shelter a collection of over 2,000 plants, and many of those are used for floral displays in the David A. Klein Orchidarium and the Courtyard of the Main House. Vizcaya’s collection includes many Florida natives and warm-growing exotic orchids, some of significant size and rarity like our Phalaenopsis bulbophyllum and Stanhopea species.