Flamingo Gardens
Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary

by Anna Collins

There are many wonderful and enchanting places in South Florida and Flamingo Gardens is one of them.

Don’t let the name “Flamingo Gardens” fool you. It’s much more than just a collection of those elegant, long-necked pretty pink birds. In fact, the flamingos are almost an aside in this tropical paradise and wildlife sanctuary.

How it All Started

In 1925 Michigan resident Floyd Wray came to Florida on a business trip to establish a branch of the House of Crane Tobacco Company. In 1926, Wray moved to Hollywood, FL with his wife, Jane.

Instead of his original tobacco idea, Floyd joined realtor Joseph Young selling hundreds of acres of land, then a hurricane struck. After the devastating 1926 hurricane, the entrepreneurial Wray recognized the shortage of Florida oranges during the summer months and teamed up with partners Frank Stirling and C.F. Hammerstein to organize Flamingo Groves. The groves were established as a 40-acre planting concept that adopted the idea of “citrus condominiums”. This meant a “condo grove” was established to allow buyers 5-acre parcels for $750.00 (you read that right) that allowed them a five-year contract to plant, grow and harvest some 70 varieties of citrus fruits. After the five years, the buyer had the option of reselling the parcel at a previously stated price or accepting pro-rata shares of Flamingo Grove profits. By 1939, the original 40-acre planting climbed to over 200 and eventually covered over 2,000 acres.

In 1928, Wray asked Frank Stirling to create botanical gardens at Flamingo Groves. The botanical gardens received foreign plants and seeds from the federal government to test how the plants would grow in a subtropical climate. The goal was to gather and display rare tropical fruit, trees and shrubs so people could enjoy the beauty and vast potential of South Florida. It was a passion Floyd and Jane Wray shared.

In 1966, the original Flamingo Groves was dissolved and the Floyd L. Wray Memorial Foundation, created by Jane Wray in her will in 1968, gave name to the present day Flamingo Gardens. Flamingo Gardens is now a 60-acre botanical garden, wildlife sanctuary and arboretum that also includes the Wray Historical Home and Nature Center.

In addition, there are over 50 acres of citrus groves and many wildlife exhibits. The Flamingo Island Habitat is home to 13 flamingos. There’s also the Bird of Prey Center, a River Otter Habitat, an Iguana Habitat and a Crocodilian Lagoon.

The botanicals include the Hibiscus Garden, the Heliconia Garden, the Amaryllis Garden and lots of trees draped with orchids and bromeliads. Visitors can board a tram that takes you around the property while a running narration given by your driver, explains the history of Flamingo Groves and the various wildlife and exotic plants you’ll pass along the way. 

About the Wildlife Sanctuary

The wildlife sanctuary is for all wildlife that has been permanently injured by man or the environment and is not able to be re-released into the wild. The sanctuary is a safe refuge for these animals and houses many of Florida’s endangered species such as the bald eagle, red eagle and red-tail hawks. These birds and other birds of prey can be seen in the Bird of Bird of Prey Center.

We spotted two very cute and cuddly-looking bobcats in the Bobcat Exhibit. This was a classic case of “don’t let appearances fool you”, because although these cats look adorable, they are ferocious and often aggressive animals.  Bobcats are nearly impossible to domesticate and should always be approached with the utmost caution (or the kibbles ‘n  bits can turn out to be you!)

If you like to see things up close and personal, you should be sure to attend the Wildlife Encounter Show given daily. A wildlife expert will do a live “show and tell” with birds of prey and reptiles. During our visit we learned about alligator and their habits, while our speaker held a baby alligator in his hand.

Did you know an alligator will never try to attack something they don’t think they can swallow whole? So if you come close to a gator, and feel in danger, don’t crouch down; instead make sure you stand straight and tall (no matter how much your knees may be shaking!). And if you’re you’re attacked by a gator, the best thing to do is hold on to him. Sounds crazy, but if you struggle, the gator will try to pull you apart. Hug him until help arrives. Rarely are people attacked by alligators and 80% of their diet actually consists of snails (who knew alligators loved escargot?) And those ridges on their back are used as solar panels so gators can survive at night. Beats an electric bill.

Another interesting point: If alligators had dentists they’d all be broke! Besides having 80 teeth in their mouth, gators go through over 3,000 teeth during the first 40 years of their lives and they live to be between 60 and 80 years old.

Our speaker also taught us about snakes: snakes are deaf by nature but depend on vibrations to warn them of anything that comes close to them. This is why it’s so hard to sneak up on a snake (not that you’d necessarily want to…).

And of course the Fabulous Flamingos

The reason I came here in the first place was to see the flamingos. I am a fan of all things flamingo ever since I was a kid—stuffed toys, plates, cups, spoon holders, kitchen utensils, vases, knickknacks—anything with a flamingo on it is okay with me. But to see these magnificently elegant creatures in real life was a treat I thoroughly enjoyed. Watching them run their heads along the water, dip their beaks in to take a drink, or pose on one foot, reminded me what wonderful place Florida is to live and how lucky we were to be able to see such beauty any time we wanted.

The flamingos get their lovely coral color from the brine shrimp and algae they eat and it’s interesting to note that flamingos are not indigenous to Florida but are actually from the Caribbean Islands. Zoos and tourists spots usually clip a small amount of bone from the end of one of the Flamingo’s wings (called “pinioning”) to make the bird too unstable in flight to go far, but allows them to roam freely without escaping the grounds.

There are 13 beautiful flamingos to see at Flamingo Gardens and they’re not camera shy so make sure you bring lots of film.

Along with the flamingos you’ll see lots of Ibis. The Ibis are known for their long curving bill. This bird was once hunted by early settlers and is said to taste like chicken (doesn’t everything?).The Ibis is now protected by law.

Along The Nature Walk you’ll see all the different trees and exotic plants that the Wrays brought back from around the world for their botanical gardens.

There are different species of Palms, Orchids galore that all bloom at different times of the year; a  Royal Poinciana tree and the unusual looking “Sausage Tree” from Africa. It is said the natives used the “sausages” for medicinal purposes and it is still used today by some tribes in Africa. You’ll also encounter bromeliads, staghorns and air plants. Of special interest is the “cluster fig tree” planted in 1928 by Floyd Wray. It’s the largest one-truck tree in South Florida. You'll also see 200 year old oak trees around the Wray House.

Along the way is the Arboretum where you can see one of the largest collections of Champion trees surrounded by lush plants and a waterfall.

Don’t miss the Xeriscape Garden. Here you’ll find out about the different material that are used for a low maintenance, minimal irrigation garden. You can find out how to create a compelling landscape without wasting water.

The Wray Home

Floyd and Jane Wray
also had their home on the property. Built in the 1930s, the house sits on the highest elevation known as Pine Island Hammock (a hammock is an island of trees).  The house was originally a summer home, where Jane’s mother lived. The Wrays used this home as a weekend getaway (their primary residence was in Hollywood, only a two hour buggy ride away) and frequently entertained guests here. Today, the home has been turned into a museum portraying the history of the Everglades, the Seminole Indians and Broward County.

The inside of the house has some of the Wrays’ original furnishing and some furnishings that are authentic to the period have been added to replicate the décor of the times. The effect is very charming and inviting and lots of fun to see. The dining room furniture, on loan from a relative, belonged to the Wrays and is in remarkably good condition.

In the kitchen is a stove that used kerosene fuel and an icebox that had a top compartment for a block of ice. A butter churn sits on top of the icebox. There was very little cooking done here because most of the food was barbecued in the big barbecue house built in the backyard, where the Wrays frequently had big parties. >>more