As Montgomery Botanical Center’s founder, Colonel Robert Montgomery’s first botanical passion was conifers, and by the 1930s he had established an extensive conifer collection at his estate in Cos Cob, Connecticut. In 1938, after relocating to Miami, FL, he brought an extensive list of conifer taxa to the property that is now Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC). Significant rare tropical conifers were added to the collection in the 1970s and 1980s, and since 2006, the Tropical Conifer Collection has grown through exchange and propagation of specimens from partner institutions as well as cuttings collected during overseas field expeditions. Of the 296 conifers growing on MBC grounds, nearly 40% were collected from the wild from places as far afield as Australia, Belize, Bermuda, Brazil, China, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, India, Jamaica, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papau New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, Vanuatu, and Viet Nam. Today MBC’s living conifer collections represent a wide diversity of tropical conifers – 132 taxa from five of the six currently recognized conifer families Araucariaceae, Cupressaceae, Pinaceae, Podocarpaceae, and Taxaceae.
Tropical conifers are, in general, underrepresented in botanical collections, especially in the U.S. Expert care for MBC plant accessions by experienced curators, both in the nursery and on the grounds, ensures that tropical conifers at MBC get the best possible chance to grow and thrive to reproductive maturity – a condition that oftentimes cannot be met at gardens located in colder climates, which require glasshouses to protect warm climate conifers. Regular visits by researchers and requests for conifer seed and tissue specimens testify to MBC’s vital role in advancing tropical conifer research, conservation, and education.