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History of MBC's Cycad Collection

 
   
 

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In 1932, after completing the construction of his home, Robert Montgomery began developing a palm and cycad collection at his winter residence (named the Coconut Grove Palmetum) in Miami, Florida. His fascination with cycads most likely started because of his love of conifers (Robert Montgomery had an extensive private conifer collection in Connecticut) and the similar overall appearance between palms and cycads. In October 1932, Robert purchased and planted two Microcycas calocoma plants (RM384), one five feet and the other eight feet in height. The two plants cost him $90.


Planting in 1932 of one of the two Microcycas calocoma (RM384) plants that Robert Montgomery purchased for his new estate.

By November of 1932, Robert had planted large specimens of three other species, Cycas rumphii (RM306), Cycas revoluta (RM311), and Dioon edule (RM323). By July of 1936, Robert had obtained and planted large specimens of Macrozamia moorei (RM974), Dioon spinulosum (RM910), Cycas media (RM976), Encephalartos altensteinii (RM1340), Encephalartos lehmanii (RM1341), and Encephalartos longifolius (RM1433), as well as more Microcycas plants (RM805) probably obtained from Brother Leon in Cuba. Robert's estate superintendent wrote Robert in Connecticut about the planting of the Macrozamia moorei plant and said that it took three men to carry this plant and he had been told that the plant was at least 1,500 years old. The plants of Dioon spinulosum were originally obtained from Veracruz, Mexico and the plants of Cycas media came, supposedly, from Rockhampton, Australia.

Robert Montgomery continued developing his cycad collection at the Coconut Grove Palmetum until his death in 1953. In 1959, Nell Montgomery, Roberts wife, created The Montgomery Foundation (now Montgomery Botanical Center) to support research on tropical plants and to promote her husband's name. Through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the cycad collection on the property continued to slowly expand. In 1990, Nell Montgomery passed away, leaving the buildings, the 120-acre property, and the plant collections to Montgomery Botanical Centers Board of Directors oversight.

Today, the purpose of Montgomery Botanical Centers cycad collection is to offer the horticulture, scientific, and educational communities scientifically useful population-based samples of cycads for research and educational purposes.


The same 1932 plant of Microcycas calocoma (RM384) in 1993.

With that in mind, Montgomery Botanical Centers main focus is to develop its collections with as many wild-collected, documented population samples as possible. Montgomery Botanical Centers cycad collection will, therefore, differ from most botanical gardens, since the emphasis is on maximizing the morphologic and genetic diversity among populations within a taxon and not taxon diversity.

Montgomery Botanical Centers first sponsored cycad expedition was to southern China in 1992. Since then, Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) has executed an average of two expeditions each year to continue the development of a population-based cycad collection. In 2001, MBC completed expeditions to Belize, Ecuador, Mexico, and Panama to support the expansion of its New World cycad collection. A wonderful article by Virginia Hayes and Jeff Chemnick on the Mexico 2001 Expedition can be found in Volume 10, Number 2 of the Lotusland Newsletter.


Former Executive Director, Dr. Terrence Walters, with MBC's Stangeria collection


Data from new collections are continually being recorded in MBC's plant database. MBC documents its collections from the time seed is collected from a plant in the wild to eventual seed set on the property. A phenological examination (e.g., flushing, coning, health, etc.) of the collection is completed each month.

Digital images of one plant from each accession are obtained every other year to document growth and development. Male and female cone development is also electronically documented. Those data and images are made available to visiting scientists and educators accessing MBC's collections for studies.

As of the end of 2004, MBCs cycad collection, including both the nursery and the ground collections, contained all 11 genera, 1,033 accessions, and over 4,400 seeds, seedlings, and plants in the MBC nursery. MBC now has over 2,750 cycads planted in the grounds collection. The majority of the cycad ground collection is wild collected, grown from seed, and thoroughly documented, which makes MBCs cycad collection one of the largest and most scientifically useful collections in the world.

If you are interested in undertaking a research or study project on the cycad collection at MBC, please contact, by phone or e-mail, Michael Calonje (How to Contact Us).

To encourage the scientific use of the collection, MBC offers guest housing to scientists and educators, 24-hour access to the plants, and security for long-term, on-site studies for projects associated with the collection.


MBCs Seedbank Coordinator, Judy Kay, along with volunteer Larry Kraus, collecting the first male cone from a plant of Cycas panzhihuaensis. MBC's Cycas panzhihuaensis Collection was originally collected as seed in October of 1992 during the expedition to China.



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