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Flamingo Gardens

South Florida's Botanical Gardens and Wildlife Sanctuary

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Two greater flamingoes eating in a pond at the Flamingo Gardens, Davie, Florida, USA
Juan Silva/Photodisc/Getty Images
Upon a visit to Flamingo Gardens, visitors would expect to see flamingos — those spindle-legged birds with the long necks and orange-pink feathers — and visitors will not be disappointed; there are plenty of the creatures around. There are also plenty of other native wildlife to be seen, wildlife encounter shows to experience, and lush tropical gardens to enjoy. But, this isn't exactly unusual for Florida. There are plenty of tourist attractions where you will see some of the same things. So, why did South Florida Parenting Magazine vote Flamingo Gardens as the best local attraction? Is there a special reason that The Herald gave it a Peoples' Choice Award as one of the best places to take out-of-town visitors to South Florida?

This guide thinks Flamingo Gardens is special because it keeps a bit of early twentieth-century history alive in South Florida where preservation has so often taken a backseat to development. By providing a repository for endangered plant and bird species and care for permanently injured native South Florida birds and animals, it educates the public and inspires an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of South Florida's flora and fauna.

Because everyone who visits finds something they truly love — whether it's the plants and trees, the birds and animals, or the history — it isn't hard to lure visitors back again. As an extra incentive to bring the public back again and again, the overseers regularly hold fun and educational special events throughout the year including craft and jewelry fairs, flea markets, plant events, and reptile shows.

History

It is surprising to most visitors to find out Flamingo Gardens was not initially a garden at all. More surprising is that it didn't get its name by showcasing flamingos either. It was originally an orange grove. And although many orange trees still remain on the property, most were wiped out in the fall of 1947 when hurricanes caused extensive flooding in the Davie area.

In the mid-1920s, Floyd L. Wray, and his wife Lula Jane Bush, moved to Hollywood, Florida. He joined the promotional staff of Joseph W. Young, the founder and developer of Hollywood-by-the-Sea, as a realtor and sold hundreds of acres of land. After the disastrous hurricane of 1926, the land boom ended and jobs became scarce. Having a pioneering spirit, Mr. Wray recognized an opportunity in the shortage of oranges during the summer months and their high prices during the season; so, he teamed up with others and purchased 320 acres of Everglades land, and in early 1927, Flamingo Groves was incorporated. A month later the first tree was planted.

The idea of citrus condominiums was soon adapted. The "Condo Grove" concept allowed an offering of five-acre parcels with a five-year contract to plant, grow, and harvest citrus planted 66 trees to an acre. After five years, buyers had the option of reselling their parcels at a previously specified price or receiving pro-rata shares of Flamingo profits.

In 1928, Wray engaged Frank Stirling to create a botanical showcase at Flamingo Groves. In 1930, the botanical gardens started to receive foreign plants and seeds from the federal government for test planting in a subtropical growing climate. Their goal was to collect and show rare tropical fruit, flowering trees, and shrubs so visitors could experience the great beauty and potential of South Florida.

Although their primary residence was in Hollywood, in 1933, the Wrays built a two-bedroom weekend retreat at the groves. It was used for relaxing, entertaining and business. The house is now open to the public as a museum.

Before the development of orange groves in the area, there was no need for a packinghouse of any size. Most of the oranges raised in Dade and Broward counties at the time were used locally. Always the entrepreneur, Wray built packing houses and retail outlets with the first shipping center opening in 1931, and the first packing plant opening in 1934. He also built the first modern citrus plant in 1939 near the railroad into Port Everglades.

By 1939, the original 40-acre citrus grove increased to more than 200 acres, and eventually the grounds covered over 2,000 acres or approximately three square miles.

Jane Wray was a musician, teacher, poet, and she loved gardens. In 1955, she developed an art center called Garden Galleries of Flamingo Groves, which no longer exists. She was the last to pass away, and her will established the Floyd L. Wray Memorial Foundation which runs Flamingo Gardens as a not-for-profit organization.

In the mid-1960s, Butch Parmalt and Tommy Taylor ran a business working with reptiles out of Flamingo Gardens. Parmalt worked with the snakes, and Taylor handled rattlesnakes and performed alligator wrestling. They held 8 to 14 shows per day and charged 25 cents per person.

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