Floyd L. and Jane Wray came to Florida in 1925 and were deeply intrigued with the horticultural possibilities of the subtropical locale. They purchased 320 acres of land around and including Long Key in the Everglades. On January 2, 1927, Floyd L. Wray incorporated Flamingo Groves, beginning what was to become one of the first botanical gardens and tourist attractions in South Florida.
When Floyd Wray and his business partner Frank Stirling founded Flamingo Groves in 1927 it was largely a naturalized hammock surrounded by reclaimed land of the Everglades. They planted the first citrus tree on February 22 and the grove grew to 2000 acres with over 60 varieties of citrus including a 20-acre citrus laboratory. In the 1930s, the botanical gardens received foreign plants and seeds from the federal government for test planting, and to showcase rare tropical fruit, flowering trees, and shrubs, further expanding the botanical collection.
The Wrays welcomed the public to the gardens. They built a weekend home atop the Live Oak hammock in the groves where annual barbeques were held on the vast lawn. Tours of the citrus groves and botanical gardens, as well as the fruit shipping area, were given daily. It is said that there were nesting Flamingos on the property when it was bought and Mrs. Wray introduced Peacocks to the gardens in the 40s to the delight of the visitors. Of course alligators were indigenous to the area, and in the 1960s an exhibit was introduced with daily demonstrations and shows.
The Floyd L. Wray Memorial Foundation was established in 1969 by Mrs. Wray, in honor of her late husband, to preserve the core property for future generations and emphasize the history of the Florida Everglades. The name was changed to Flamingo Gardens, and the gardens were preserved and expanded. In 1990, the Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary opened with the Bird of Prey Center, followed by the half-acre Free-flight Aviary featuring the 5 ecological zones of South Florida. One of the first of its kind in the country, the sanctuary gave residence to permanently injured or non-releasable Florida native wildlife. Other wildlife displays opened including River otter, Bald & Golden eagles, bobcats, tortoises, and Florida panthers.
Today Flamingo Garden’s boasts one of the last natural jungle growths in South Florida with over 3000 topical and subtropical species of plants and trees, including the largest tree in Florida. It also boasts the largest single collection of State Champion trees which are the largest tree of their species as determined by the Florida Forestry Service.
The property is now listed as Broward Cultural Heritage Landmark and the Wray Home is a register Historical Landmark with the state of Florida. The Wray Home is now a museum giving visitors a glimpse of life in the 1930s. Over four dozen peacocks roam the Wray lawn and 19 flamingos splash in the pond nearby.
The Everglades Wildlife Sanctuary is home to 83 native species of birds and animals, including River otter, Bald & Golden eagles, bobcats, tortoises, and a Florida panther, making it the largest collection of Florida native wildlife in the state. The Free-flight Aviary boasts over 250 birds representing 45 species, with the distinction of being the largest collection of Florida wading birds in the state. In the last 20 years, the birds in the Aviary have successfully bred close to 2000 offspring which have been released into the wild, and our River otter breeding program is one of the most successful in the country with 32 offspring born since its inception in 1989.
Flamingo Gardens hosts ecological tours for over 26,000 school children of different ages each year, educating them in Florida’s unique wildlife, plants, and environment. Special events are held throughout the year which focus on the unique ecosystems and ecological interests of Florida and the Everglades, from invasive reptiles to native Florida plants and butterflies.
As Mr. Wray wrote in 1939, “You are welcome to Flamingo [Gardens], and are invited to spend as much time as you desire, my only request being...that you help us preserve this beauty spot for others.”