The Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden is a real treasure in our area

Misha McRae, executive director of the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the garden.

The Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden is the only frost free native botanical garden in the continental United States.

McRae said, “Not only 88 years old and the only frost free tropical forests but we’re globally recognized for our conservation efforts, and one of only probably six or seven botanical gardens in the world that focuses exclusively on native plants of our region. You will find over 535 native species of plants from the Keys, South Florida, Cuba and the Caribbean.”

Education is incredibly important for the garden and the Education Capital Improvement Campaign is a big help.

McRae said, “We started this last year. I put a plea out to the community and to funders that our current education office has outlived its years. Seriously, it was a construction trailer that was brought in way back in 2006 and after flooded from Hurricane Wilma, hit by lightning 11 times, it’s time we have a new office. So we are really looking for those who will help us because we recognize that children are our future. My goal as executive director is find those handful of kids out of thousands that are going to fall in love with this garden, and perpetuate it through the future by coming back here and help us and the best way to do that is bringing them out to the garden, have them experience mother nature at its finest and we need to have the education facilities to do that.”

The garden works with Monroe County School District.

McRae said, “That includes homeschools, charter schools, private schools, even the schools on the military base. This past year, we brought in 3200 students into our garden for our field trips. That included us going to the classroom, then the classes coming to the garden and then as doing a follow up and we work directly with the educators on what they need in their curriculum to help their students’ academic career. It’s an important role. It’s a high task, but we’re up to it.”

There is a Nature is Art photography workshop coming up.

McRae said, “This is our second year we’re doing a photography workshop with Kristie Killam renowned known nature art, especially wildlife here in the Keys. If anyone is Facebook fans, you’ve probably seen her pictures. They’re quite exquisite. We’re following up from last year. It was really a vision of mine wondering what to do with these 300 pictures I have on my camera, , what do you do with them afterwards? So Kristie’s coming in and sharing her expertise on techniques. She explains the equipment from your smartphone, your iPhone, your iPad, your camera, Nikon, whatever the case, the different equipment that you can use, different techniques, as well as we open the garden up, take a tour, walk around, find your subject, focus in and take a picture, all the way to putting it into print and showing it in our art showcase in April.”

Event sponsors are incredibly important.

McRae said, “Becoming an event sponsor, number one, put your name out there that you do care about the environment, you do care about wildlife refuges, you do care about open spaces, and you do care about the botanical garden. It starts at various levels, what we call own the park. For $2,500 you’re top of the hill, you’re the main sponsor, and you get your name put out everywhere from print to radio to website, anything that has to do with the event and the event logo and name, your logo and name will be attached to it. It goes from $2,500 down to $500. Any and all dollars are greatly appreciated because the trees can’t do it on its own. We do need public help. We have two major events coming up. Garden Fest Key West and Green Marketplace. Most people know because we have the beer garden and live music. It’s going to be March 2. We’re looking for sponsors to help us with that. Then the big community event for the children is Migration Mania and the Great Egg Hunt. That’s going to be on March 23. That is where the kids come out. They get to Easter egg. They learn about migration. They do all the fun stuff, be outdoors, and hopefully find another reason to love that Botanical Garden.”

What’s the best way to sustain the garden?

McRae said, “The big P word, participate. You have to participate. Call me. Tell me what your interests are, how you’d like to help out, give to our annual funds. This is the biggest budget we’ve had so far. I add $700,000 for this year’s annual budget, and we need your help to match that. That’s running all five programs. We’re more than just the green stuff at the garden. We’ve got education, conservation, preservation, community outreach, and our big one, of course is our children’s education program. Donate to the education building by saying restricted to education. Your donations, your memberships, anywhere you can sign your line on helping us with it as well as coming out to volunteer are all under the big P word, participate. That is the best way to keep the garden alive and growing.”

If you are interested, call 305-296-1504.

McRae said, “And let me throw my number out there, too, 305-296-1501. Leave your name number and a message and I will get back to you. We want your help. We want your participation and listen, I’d love the opportunity to show you just a little bit of the magic that happens out at the botanical garden.”

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