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History of MBCs Palm Collection
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There are various 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 plants, 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.

Creation of the Coconut Grove Palmetum - 1932

With 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 Palmetum.

Dr. David Fairchild, a celebrated plant explorer, was  instrumental in helping Col. Robert Montgomery build his collection of palms.


The 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.

By the 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.

Growth of the Coconut Grove Palmetum - 1933 to 1990

Through 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 to 306.

By 1939, 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 United States.

By 1933, the Coconut Grove Palmetum had over 1000 mature palm 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 in 1932.

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.


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