The Jurassic Garden
The Jurassic Garden
Sunday, January 19, 2003
Florida has the ideal climate for the Jurassic Park garden;
hot, humid and swampy. There is something fascinating
about the plants that existed in the era when dinosaurs
roamed the earth. The great lizards have long since
passed, but an amazing number of the plants that they
grazed upon, or hunted among, are still flourishing today.
In fact, many plants that grow in our area are identical to
fossil plants from millions of years ago.
The first land plants were mosses, rootless airplants like
our familiar Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), which
appeared over 430 million years ago. Among the oldest
survivors of this group is the Whisk Fern (Psilotum
nudum). This lovely moss looks like a sea-fan on a coral
The next on the scene were the club-mosses. Modern examples that do well here include peacock moss
(Selaginella uncinata), and arborvitae fern (Selaginella ledidophylla).
Around 400 million years ago, the Horsetails (Equisetum spp.) appeared. The horsetails beautifully jointed,
reed-like habit is best suited for container culture in small ponds and water features.
Ferns dominated the landscape beginning about 350 million years ago. Some of the best of this widely diverse
group for the modern Jurassic garden include maidenhair (Adiantum capillus-veneris), ladyfern (Anthyrium
filix-femina), and autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). The Australian tree-fern (Cyathea cooperii) closely
resembles the majestic ferns of this era. It does well in our gardens, with some winter protection.
Just over 200 million years ago the actual Jurassic period began. This was also the era when true seed-bearing
plants, the conifers and their kin, came to prominence. Examples of this group that exist today include
gopherwood or torreya pine (Torreya spp.), still found in pockets along the Apalachicola Bluffs area, and bald
cypress (Taxodium distichum) a prominent species in area wetlands. The dawn redwood (Metasequoia
glyptostroboides) was once thought to be extinct, and was known only from the fossil record. Just after World
War II, a stand was discovered in western China, propagated, and the dawn redwood has become a favored
tree throughout the temperate regions.
Two of the most interesting of the early seed plants that still exist in our area are the monkey-puzzle tree
(Araucara araucana), with its bizarrely patterned habit and stiff spiky leaves, and the ginko (Ginko biloba),
which has unique fan-shaped leaves and fantastic golden fall color. Cycads are another of the relics of this
period. Sago palm (Cycas revoluta ) is widely used in our area. Other species from this group that will grow
well here are dioon (Dioon edule), which looks much like sago only with silvery foliage, and coontie (Zamia
pumila), a low growing native of the Panhandle.
The Jurassic Garden
The final stage of the dinosaur period saw the rise of flowering
plants. These plants became the extremely diverse group that
dominates the landscape today. Among the oldest flowering plants
are magnolias, laurels, barberry, and palms. Outstanding specimens
from this group that you can add to your dinosaur garden include
Ashe magnolia (Magnolia ashii) and big-leaf magnolia (Magnolia
macrophylla). An interesting laurel is the culinary bayleaf (Laurus
nobilis). Cold hardy palms that are well suited to North Florida
include pindo palm (Butia capitata), needle palm (Rhapidophyllum
hystrix), and windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortuneii).
So plant your very own Jurassic Park, and just be glad that the
biggest herbivore we have to deal with in our gardens is an
occasional deer. Can you imagine having dinosaurs grazing in your
*Brandy Cowley-Gilbert and her husband Ted own Just Fruits and Exotics
Nursery in Medart and are members of the University of Florida IFAS Extension
Advisory Committee for Leon County.
Photos: Coontie by Mark Shelby, UF-IFAS Extension Bigleaf magnolia by
Ashland High School Horticulture Dept, Ashland Ohio.