stories of why Colonel Robert Montgomery came to south Florida and
started a palm collection. The most accepted story is that the Colonel
was involved in a friendly competition of collecting conifers in
Connecticut with his friend George Brett, owner of Macmillan Press.
George, who was growing palms at his Coconut Grove estate, challenged
the Colonel to come to south Florida and continue their friendly
competition, but with palms and cycads. So, the Colonel accepted the
challenge. He hoped to establish the largest and most complete
collection of rare palms (and other tropical plants) in Florida.
Col. Robert Montgomery was a lover of
pictured here at his pinetum in Cos Cobb, Connecticut where he had over
700 species. At the urging
of his friend George Brett,
the Colonel expanded his interests to collecting palms and cycads at
his palmetum in Florida.
of the Coconut Grove Palmetum - 1932
the help of Dr. David Fairchild, the Colonel traveled around Florida in
the summer of 1932 buying large specimen palms from nurseries, growers,
and private collectors. He bought specimens of every palm species known
to be growing in Florida at that time, about 150 species in all. Tom
Fennell, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Introduction
Station at Chapman Field, was also very instrumental in the development
of the palmetum. In 1932, the Colonel successfully transplanted about
700 specimen palms to the estate and named it the Coconut Grove
Dr. David Fairchild, a
celebrated plant explorer, was instrumental in helping Col.
Robert Montgomery build his collection of palms.
planting of the Palmetum began in 1932. On the right, with their showy
crownshafts, are royal palms (Roystonea
regia) that were planted
along the main driveway. In the foreground is a young Hyphorbe
vershaffeltii or spindle palm.
end of 1933, ten acres had been cleared and 237 species and varieties
of palms -- totaling over 1,000 mature specimens -- had been planted in
the Palmetum. Col. Montgomery spent a total of $80,000 on plants,
grading, landscaping, and planting during those first two years. This
paled in comparison to the $10,000 he spent for the property and the
$22,000 he spent to build his house.
of the Coconut Grove Palmetum - 1933 to
his friend Dr. David Fairchild, the Colonel made many contacts
throughout the world from whom he received seed. The Colonel continued
to work aggressively to cultivate even more contacts and thus obtained
plants from practically every portion of the tropics, receiving over
900 lots of seed from over 200 foreign sources during one, two-year
period. The palms grown from those seed represented approximately 155
species, bringing the total number of species of palms in the Palmetum
in his book Fifty Years of
Accounting, Montgomery reported
having over 400 species of palms and cycads growing in the ground. In
truth, by December 1939, the Colonel's inventory showed a total of 432
palm species, 50 cycad species, and 1,051 other species. In summary,
Montgomery purchased plants and/or seeds from at least 64 nurseries and
individuals, and acquired others from the USDA, numerous botanical
gardens, universities, foreign sites, and expeditions worldwide to
aggressively build one of the largest private palm collections in the
By 1933, the Coconut Grove Palmetum had over 1000 mature
specimens and by the early 1940s it had become one of the largest
private collections of living palms in the U.S. This aerial was taken
Robert Montgomery died
in 1953 and in 1959, his wife, Nell Montgomery, created The Montgomery
Foundation to support research on Montgomery's collections and to
promote the Montgomery name in the field of tropical botany.