Friday June 15, 2012
I don’t have a whole lot of interest in visiting the not-so-new Parrot Jungle on Watson Island. I see where it makes perfect sense for them to be close to the urban center, and I even see the need for attractions like that in places like that. But there’s an old-Florida charm to the original location that I think I’d miss too much. But it turns out that the original location is still open, boringly renamed Pinecrest Gardens.
In a lot of ways it’s just as interesting as it was with the parrots. You slow down and focus on the crazy natural surroundings. The park was originally established in the 1930’s, and the starting point was the wild vegetation that existed in this spot. It was cultivated and molded by Franz Scherr, who had a vision of an attraction “where the birds could fly free” (which of course they never really did).
A large part of the park is in a natural Cypress Slough, a natural depression in the land that’s permanently wet and warmer than the surrounding area. The Cypress’ knees poke out of the ground, and the leaves teem with lizards of all sizes, birds, turtles, fish, and huge, slow-flying mosquitos.
There’s a natural comparison to be made with Fairchild Gardens. But Fairchild is prissy and educational (not to mention outrageously expensive at $25 per person). By comparison, the old Parrot Jungle site is dense, chaotic, and funky. And while the park is much smaller, it’s equivalent of Fairchild’s tropical rainforest is bigger and much less tamed. And admission is a refreshing $3.
There are enough paths through the overgrown part of the park to get lost on (and you can wander off the paths, just watch out for spiderwebs). Here’s one of the shelters left over from the park’s parrot past, with a sinkhole in the foreground.
A lot of the water features, including lakes, brooks, and mini-waterfalls, are man-made and stocked with gargantuan koi.
And everything rewards close looking. Here are some weird buds sprouting out of a branch.
In the more manicured part of the park, a Kigelia, aka sausage tree.
Cypress roots of the decades spill out over the path that winds through the wild portion of the park.
More signs of the parrot past, cages built along the path.
The original entrance building. There’s an almost Tolkeinesque quality to a lot of the original architecture…
This, the current entrance building, was a more recent addition, but it’s still got a lot of that old personality.
The park was hit hard by Hurricane Andrew. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago. In other news, you are OLD.
The park also has its share of Vizcaya-like coral grottoes. I can totally see why it’s a popular wedding spot.
You catch glimpses of the geodesic dome amphitheater, which is well concealed by the park’s vegetation and design despite being smack in the middle. Apparently it still gets some use from time to time.
Massive water lilies! Some other stuff they’ve got (for you parents out there!) that I didn’t bother to photograph: a pretty sweet water park area, a playground, and a petting zoo with the usual goats, sheep, and boars.
Some of the nattiest banyan roots this side of the equator. Climbing recommended.
They got ponytail palms with root bases the size of refrigerators and washing machines. There’s also more than a taste of the horticultural fetishism of Fairchild, with a succulent garden and the like.
Some of the plants have tags that give their names and most don’t, which is fine with me. They got an app for your iPhone that, if you photograph the leaf of a plant, will tell you what it is.
Some of the more gruesome looking parrot enclosures. I’m sure the parrots liked living here and doing tricks though, right?
The turtles certainly seem to enjoy it.
Oh, and the lake totally has ducks and at least one swan in it. Oddly enough, I couldn’t figure out how to get down to this field. I think you’re just supposed to enjoy it from the plaza area. There’s also a lookout tower.
All in all, I’d try this place again and I would recommend it to a friend. I would take out-of-town people here, maybe even before Fairchild or a schlep to the everglades. Bring lunch (there’s a snack bar, but I believe they allow outside food) and mosquito repellent for the love of god.
(Yes, this is a picture of the same thing you just saw. I like them both. It’s crazy overgrown, yo.)
Someone told me I should put the website link at the end of the post, and only put links towards the beginning that it’s actually important for people to click? I dunno, but here, Pinecrest Gardens.comments powered by Disqus