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more of the house and think a cistern type building on the side
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park

Island park is about a mile west of Lower Matecumbe Key.
Park is open Thu.-Mon. 9-5. House tours are at 10:00am & 2:00pm Fri.-Sun.
305-664-2540 2 hours
February 2012 Winter
$0-9 Islamorada Florida
Website Nature State Parks
First review
 
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is a 280-acre island park, approximately one mile from Lower Matecumbe Key and US Route 1. The park contains a remnant of virgin native subtropical forest. Limited facilities include a small visitor center located in a house built in 1919. The visitor center contains a modest collection of shells, historic furniture and decorations and also some photographs. Access to both the house and island trails is limited to guided tours on the weekends. At other times, only the lawn in front of the visitor center is open to the public. Waters around the island are available for snorkeling, diving and boating.

William Matheson, a wealthy businessman from Miami, purchased the island in 1919 for use as a retreat. Matheson built a caretaker's house, windmill and cistern, but most of the land was left undeveloped. Ownership passed to his son in 1930, and the son introduced some exotic animals to the island such as tortoises and peacocks. The caretaker's house was significantly damaged by the famous Labor Day hurricane in 1935, but was then rebuilt. The Matheson family owned the island till 1953 when it was sold to investors. Caretakers continued to live on the island till 1971 when Florida purchased it to protect the rare habitat.

Robbie's Marina offers a combined tour to Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key on the weekends for $45. The tour take about 3 hours. You also can kayak out to Lignumvitae or go by motorboat, but the Robbie's tour is the most convenient option. This visit took place on a windy day in winter. In warmer and less windy conditions, mosquitoes can be a true menace at Lignumvitae. Since it's a park, the state does not spray to kill mosquitoes. If you come here for a stroll in the woods, don't assume that just wearing mosquito replant will do the trick. You should strongly consider mosquito clothes and nets. The ranger joked about park visitors doing the tourist dance to swat the mosquitoes, but he was only half kidding. If you visit in winter, you should probably be OK without extra protection, but preparation is still a good choice.

The guided tour takes around 1.5 hours. It starts in the front yard of the historic home with some general commentary about the island and park. There are a few historic cannon in the yard. Next the tour heads inside where the park ranger discussed Matheson and other park residents. There are some older items in the house, such as furniture and a record player. The shell collection was modest but somewhat interesting for its size and shapes. The house is simple but bright and comfortable and also had beautiful hardwood floors. After the house, the ranger escorted the small group on a walk on the island trails. Most of his comments here were about native vegetation, especially trees. The trail leads through a rich hardwood hammock with such trees as the namesake lignum vitae, as well as the gumbo-limbo, strangler fit and poisonwood. If you are into botany, this tour should be of interest. Much of the vegetation is more representative of the Caribbean than the US. As there were only a handful of people on the tour, it was easy to ask questions and have a meaningful discussion about the plants and habitat. Since Lignumvitae is more about nature than history, it fits in well with a visit to Indian Key which is just the opposite. However, if you only have time to visit one of the islands, Indian Key was more interesting overall and should have wider appeal for that reason.
Author:
guyonthego
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