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When planning a trip to Florida, the first things that come to mind are probably the sun and sand of the state’s famous beaches and the thrill and excitement of its many theme parks. However, Florida’s warm and wet subtropical climate means that many unique plants can take root in the state’s soil. Your trip wouldn’t be complete without taking the opportunity to enjoy some of the best botanical gardens in Florida, where species of flowers, ferns, and trees thrive in its unique ecosystems.
1. Harry P. Leu Botanical Gardens – Orlando
Nested in the hustle and bustle of downtown Orlando lies a 50-acre celebration of all things that grow. Divided into many smaller gardens, Harry P. Leu Botanical Gardens has something for everyone, from the aromatic flavors in the Herb Garden to the spiny succulents in the Arid Garden, and the delicate blooms and variegated leaves in the White Garden. This venue also hosts many events to help get people interested in plants, such as an art installation with themed Fairy Doors hidden among trees and bushes. However, the most popular place to visit is the beautiful Rose Garden, arranged in concentric circles around an ornate fountain. Many locals choose the Rose Garden as the setting for their wedding and graduation photos, as its spring and summer blooms create one of the most picturesque locations in the city.
2. Mead Botanical Garden – Winter Park
Run with the help of volunteers and donations, the Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park is truly devoted to giving people a place to enjoy nature and get outdoors. Closing time is listed solely as dusk, and admission to the entire campus is free. The focus here is on native plants and encouraging conservation, with one garden made for butterflies and another made for bees. With a boardwalk over marshes, a wildflower garden, and protected gopher tortoise burrows, this casual, come-as-you-are garden is great for learning about many of the most important plant and pollinator species native to Florida.
3. Discovery Gardens – Tavares
At the perfect distance for a day trip, the small town of Tavares offers a quiet escape to recharge after spending time in downtown Orlando or the local theme parks. Discovery Gardens, run by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is focused on plants that thrive in home gardens, and with no entry fee it’ll be a welcome break for your wallet. With a vast assortment of plants both in pots and in the ground, the garden’s landscaping will inspire new gardening dreams in people who have big front yards as well as those with small apartment balconies. If you’re looking for ideas to bring Florida’s natural magic home, this is a great place to explore!
4. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens – Sarasota
Visitors to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are treated to an incredible display of air plants, as the location is the only botanical garden in the world that dedicates its displays to orchids, ferns, and other epiphytes, which make their homes in or on other plants, namely trees. This means that a walk through the garden grounds provides a view of thousands of different species in a grand presentation all around and above you. With over 4,000 different orchids alone, and over 8,000 other specimens on exhibit, this garden in Florida is truly a one of a kind experience.
5. Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens – Jacksonville
If you’re the type to travel with pets, then these gardens in Florida might be your favorite place on this list. Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens is happy to welcome both you and your dog to their many walking trails, all of which are studded with both native and exotic plants. Be sure to keep your eye open if you’re walking near the tea garden, as there’s a synsepalum dulcificum, or “miracle fruit” plant, located in the area. Visitors are invited to sample the curious fruits, which block taste buds from sensing sour flavors for about 30 minutes and make everything taste sweeter. With picnic tables provided near the Lake Loop Trail, a view of the water and a lunch exploring the power of this fruit could be the highlight of your visit.
6. Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens – Jacksonville
The estate originally built and managed by the family who owned the Cummer Lumber Company includes the gardens surrounding the Cummer Museum of Art; these gardens were worked on by many famous garden and landscape planners. The campus is divided into four beautiful gardens, with waterscapes, sculptures, and antique decorations set throughout and with grand architecture in the form of staircases, pillars, and arches designed to enhance and elevate enjoyment of the foliage. With art and beauty a focus of the entire location, and with the art museum as an additional activity and a respite from the Florida sun, this is a perfect place to visit for some great photos and lots of aesthetic inspiration.
7. Fruit & Spice Park – Homestead
Who doesn’t like food? At the Fruit & Spice Park, visitors get the chance to view many different species of fruit trees and are welcome — and invited — to take a bite out of any fruit that has recently fallen from the trees. If you’re not sure if what you’ve found is edible, take it to the facility’s Welcome Center, where friendly staff members will tell you what you’ve found and share some fun facts about the plant. Alongside the fruit trees, visitors will find plenty of different vegetables and a vast collection of nuts, spices, and herbs. This is the place to go if you’ve seen your fill of flowers and ferns and want a new kind of garden experience!
8. Bok Tower Gardens – Lake Wales
A piece of Florida’s history and heritage lives on at Bok Tower Gardens, where the original carillon tower still sounds its sixty bells across the grounds. With such a musical centerpiece, it’s no surprise that the site also hosts concerts on some Friday evenings after dark, when visitors can enjoy live performances while gazing at the stars. The nine gardens themselves were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., a renowned and accomplished American landscape planner. Each garden is laid out to encourage thinking and activity, with some gardens even hosting classes or displaying art installations. With music, learning, and nature all rolled into one, Bok Tower Gardens is a dazzling must-see part of Florida.
9. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens – Gainesville
Named for the 250-acre lake that sits to the north of the park, this expansive campus is the place to go if you’re looking for variety and lots of room to walk. The grounds have over twenty themed gardens, so around each and every corner visitors will find something different. There’s also a walking labyrinth, where visitors can meditate and find a sense of inner peace while wandering the twisting pathway into the center. With giant lily pads in the water garden, the largest public bamboo collection in Florida, an impressive herb garden, and over a mile of pathways, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is imposing in both size and in the vast number of plants to view.
10. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens – Miami
Built in 1916, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens invited master sculptors, muralists, and other artists to work on the building and grounds and create an immersive experience in beauty and nature. The garden celebrates and preserves many of the splendid natural plants already present on the grounds, including mangrove forests on the shoreline that protect visitors from salt spray and wind. Rich subtropical forest surrounds the rest of the gardens, populated with many endangered species of plants and the United States’ largest known specimens of eight different species of trees. With antique art, old-world gardens, and over one hundred years of history, visitors to these magnificent gardens will feel like they’ve stepped back in time.
11. Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden – Delray Beach
Inspired by prominent Japanese gardens, some of which were established over a thousand years ago, the six different elegant gardens on the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden grounds mix time periods and traditions to create an experience dedicated to evoking peace. The gardens’ landscape artist, Hoichi Kurisu, has written six extensive artist statements regarding the arrangement choices for each garden, but all of them revolve around encouraging rest and restoration of mind and body. Visiting the facility you may find yourself in a “dry landscape” garden, the predecessor to what we know as a Zen garden today. Or you might wander into the Heian-era Shinden garden, adapted to modern exploration by foot rather than the 9th-century mode of exploration by boat. Regardless of which gardens you tour, their design is sure to leave you full of calm and tranquility
12. Hollis Garden – Lakeland
With its stunning neoclassical white pillars, sculptures, and pathways drawing your eye across the landscape, the formal Hollis Garden campus looks like a place out of a fairytale. With room-like blocks created out of hedges and stone archways, each new alcove holds something magical to discover. In one, stately trees with connections to history stretch toward the sky. In another, a tranquil grotto with ferns and water lilies burbles quietly. Near Lake Mirror, which borders the northern side of the grounds, a restored 1920s pathway is adorned with sculptures and dotted with benches where you can sit and take in the view. With free admission, and shops and dining within walking distance, this is the perfect place to stop and decompress from your busy travel schedule.
13. Sunken Gardens – St. Petersburg
At over one hundred years old, Sunken Gardens is one of the original roadside attractions that drew flocks of tourists to Florida in the mid-1900s. Many of its plants date back to the park’s opening in 1903. The gardens’ “sunken” quality comes from the fact that they are built within a drained lake located ten feet below sea level, allowing for unique structures built within the garden and plenty of cascading plants along the rim. With fun programs teaching kids about nature photography, a hands-on children’s museum called Great Explorations, and animals such as fish, tortoises, and a large flock of flamingos to visit while strolling the grounds, this is a lovely stop for the whole family.
14. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden – Coral Gables
At the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, eight lakes, eleven art installations, and bunches of different water gardens, tropical gardens, and historical collections come together to create a sprawling park sure to take all day to meander through. Don’t worry, though, because the location has plenty of amenities to help you enjoy yourself! You won’t need to pack a lunch because there are two cafés within the park, and if you don’t want to stop exploring but could stand to rest your feet, there’s a narrated tram tour that runs every hour. What makes the Fairchild Garden particularly unique, however, is the Clinton Family Conservatory. Here, visitors enter an enclosure wherein many of the conservatory’s 40-plus species of butterflies flutter about in a grand display of color. If you’re looking for the botanical garden in Florida with the most to offer, you won’t find many better than this!
15. Unbelievable Acres Botanic Garden – West Palm Beach
In 1970, a man named Gene Joyner graduated college with a dream to build his very own rainforest, and shortly after, Unbelievable Acres Botanic Garden was born. He acquired all the necessary permits and traveled around the world to import plants and build a two-and-a-half- acre rainforest just minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean. Over 160 different types of tropical fruit grow here, including 40 different types of citrus, and over 2,000 types of plants pepper the forest. The garden is lush, warm, and shielded from cold weather by a stand of fast-growing trees along the perimeter, and despite being considered greenhouse-only in any other setting, the plants within the border thrive, allowing visitors to truly experience a tropical paradise otherwise unreachable in the United States. If you’ve always wanted to visit a rainforest, Unbelievable Acres might be the place!
With so much to do in the state, it’s easy to fill your itinerary with more stuff to do than you have days to do it. Nonetheless, when you get away from the crowds and have some time to enjoy fresh air and beautiful foliage, you’ll be glad you’ve made room for any one of the best botanical gardens in Florida.