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Monday, April 8, 2013

Tour Kona Kai's Botanic Gardens in Key Largo

Joe and Ronnie Harris, 20-year owners of Kona Kai Resort in Key Largo, have taken landscaping to a new level. They’ve transformed the resort's grounds into a botanic garden with more than 250 tropical species. The focus is on ethnobotany — the interactions between plants and people. I recently joined resident ethnobotanist, Rick Hederstrom, for a 90-minute tour through the property, which overlooks the Everglades National Park. With his engaging manner, Hederstrom combines science, botany and history with a solid dose of humor. Engaging all the senses, we touched the dry Spanish moss and leathery banana leaves. We smelled sweet Arabian jasmine and citrusy pomelo blooms and heard the ocean waves lapping the shore as squirrels, butterflies, lizards and birds bustled about the garden. Groundskeeper Veronika Milar climbed a ladder to pluck small, ripe red berries from the Jamaican cherry tree. They tasted like cotton candy.

Hederstrom led us to pineapples (see photo), which turn red in the middle of their 12- to 20-month growth cycle. My award for best-named plant went to the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow tree, with blooms that change from purple to lavender and then white. The head-turner was the Blue Tango bromeliad, a vivid cobalt blue with hot pink stems. I now understand why some guests plan their vacation around what’s blooming in the garden. Joan Riley, visiting from New York, couldn't have said it better, “There are a lot of passionate flowers in this garden.”

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