SOUTH OF EDEN

Much to the surprise of many visitors is the existence of a rural Miami where banyan and ficus trees, tropical gardens, farms and a vast wetland called the Everglades remind us of a tropical place that once upon a time was perceived as an American Eden.

Fairchild Tropical Garden, the largest tropical botanical garden in the continental United States, has the largest collection of palms and cycads in the world. The Deering Estate at Cutler, was the winter home of industrialist Charles Deering who preserved the natural environment surrounding his home as an environmental, archaeological, historical and architectural preserve listed today in the National Register of Historic Places. Farther south on the edge of the Everglades are two thousand small farms and nurseries that still grow tropical fruits, winter vegetables, orchids, and most of the indoor plants sold in the United States. There are also historic homes from the pioneer days, small horse farms, roadside produce stands and the southernmost winery in the United States scattered throughout the Redland and Homestead areas.

And then there is the Everglades, a vast sub-tropical wetland and watery labyrinth of lakes, ponds, sawgrass prairies, pine forests, hardwood hammocks, the Big Cypress Swamp and an astounding variety of life. It is home to alligators and crocodiles, panthers, black bears, vultures, roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, bottlenose dolphins, manatees, carnivorous plants, amphibious birds, lizards that change color, cacti that grow in water, dwarf cypress, royal palms, orchids and exotic invaders. There are 1100 species of trees and plants, 350 kinds of birds, and countless other species that don’t seem to belong on the same continent never mind the same ecosystem. Yet for all its wonder it remains one of the least understood, least appreciated places in the world. Its very existence depends on a delicate balance with the needs of seven million ravenous humans, careless developers and compromised politicians. It has a subtle beauty often beyond the reach of high speed tourists. Slow down to see it, preferably in winter.