Who is the KWBGS?

Key West Botanical Garden Society

Our Mission at the KWBGS

The Key West Botanical Garden Society, Inc., a 501(c)(3)
educational nonprofit charitable corporation (also known as “KWBGS”) manages and operates this historical property.  The land is owned by the City of Key West. The society is governed by an all volunteer board of directors and maintains this entity has been the “keeper of the trees” since 1989.

The purpose of the organization is to preserve, develop, expand and maintain the historic Key West Botanical Garden as an arboretum, botanical garden, wildlife refuge and education center.

About KWBGS Logo
The KWBGS is a nonprofit charitable corporation.
The garden will showcase flora that are native to The Florida Keys, Cuba, and the Caribbean and shall emphasize cultivation of threatened and endangered species of the Florida Keys.

This organization will encourage study of this collection and promote the benefits of native vegetation worldwide. The society will also provide educational programs for all age groups and various levels of interest geared to Keys residents, tourists, plant experts, and others.

As a registered not for profit corporation, the board is committed to the strictest standards for this type of company.  Please review the Key West Botanical Garden Society Code of Ethical Conduct ► to see how we operate in practice.

You can review our required public documents and operating budgets for free at our GuideStar Profile.
Bernard Rasch

Bernard Rasch

President of the Board

Bernard serves as the current president of the board for his second term.  A long time Key West resident, he...

The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden

is the only “frost-free” botanical garden in the continental United States. A tropical environment with ample rain allows most trees to retain their leaves in the dry season (December through late May). It is home to many endangered and threatened flora and fauna. Unlike traditional botanical gardens, this garden advocates the importance of native plants and species through education in a natural conservation habitat.

The Key West Tropical Forest & Garden is a special place where people can appreciate biodiversity and learn more about its importance. It is a major migratory stopping point for neo-tropical birds from places as far as South America, as well as being home to many rare birds in the Florida Keys.

Enjoy this “one of a kind” US tropical forest and garden for a chance to view rare butterflies, migratory and resident birds, tropical and subtropical plants and beautiful flowers.

A visit begins with a smiling volunteer greeter at our education center. See a short film to familiarize yourself with the operation and browse the photo walls. Pick up a Garden Guide that describes the 8 self-guided information tours, two wetland habitats and two butterfly gardens.

The lush courtyard has a waterfall wall of tropical plants and below turtles happily show off their home. Meander through a one acre butterfly habitat with over 23 species discovered! Stroll through a lush canopy of tropical trees. Discover the hidden pond and maybe get lucky enough to see a rare resident white crowned pigeon or bald eagle!

Garden History


The ‘Key West Botanical Garden’ was founded and developed by the Federal emergency Relief Administration as a showplace for tourists during the depression in the 1930’s when Key West went bankrupt. Beginning with 6 acres, the garden quickly reached 55 acres. Under the direction of landscape architect Ralph Gunn, 80 species were planted. This was an experimental garden; plants from all over the world were planted to learn which would survive in this environment.

By 1939 an exhibition building and office, a potting shed, tool room and greenhouses were constructed. Flagstone walkways, stone walls and even an aviary were added to the garden’s attractiveness. There was an on-site caretaker who collected entry fees and oversaw the garden. The modern equivalent of $10 million was spent building the garden. Early attendees described the garden as beautiful and filled with flowers. We know from early records that bougainvillea climbed the walls of the buildings. The garden was a popular gathering place for large family groups.

Historic Scene Image
Our historic groundbreaking ceremony in 1934.

During and after World War II, the garden underwent a period of neglect and portions of it were transferred to other government agencies. A military hospital, storage tanks for Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, and an additional 9 holes on the golf course accounted for the largest land losses.

Modern Era

By 1961 only 7.5 acres of garden and no buildings remained. At that time the City of Key West designated the garden as a permanent wildlife sanctuary, botanical garden, and arboretum.
The garden was restored under the care of a blue ribbon Community Advisory Council. Most local organizations and numerous community leaders had a hand in the restoration. A formal reopening was held in 1961 and many people again enjoyed the garden until it again fell into neglect.

Family at the garden image
A recent family visit to the garden.

In 1972, the Key West Garden Club assumed responsibility for the garden under contract with the City. The club launched a major restoration with assistance from several groups including the U.S. Marines, the Girl and Boy Scouts, and the Key West High School Go Green club. Brush was removed, fire ants were eradicated, paths were created and a great deal of effort went into the garden making it, again, an attractive and informative place to visit.

In 1988, the Key West Botanical Garden Society was formed. Today the organization is overseen by a volunteer Board of Directors and managed by a talented and dedicated staff.

Architectural History

The roots run deep for The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. Since 1934 this special place has changed in numerous ways, the most noticeable being the size of the garden at it’s inception and what is still protected today.  Please open this .PDF document to read a very good synopsis of our history by Walter S. Marder, AIA. He conducted his survey and research in 2006.

US Fish and Wildlife
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Institute of Regional Conservation