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  • Dawn Sabato

This Charming Small Town in Florida Touts the Largest Tropical Bonsai Garden in North America



Heathcote Botanical Gardens, located in Fort Pierce, Florida, is home to the largest permanent public display of tropical bonsai trees in North America. Here, visitors will be enthralled that such a small, charming coastal town can deliver such a big bonsai statement.


There are 30 different  species of bonsai represented in the 10,000 square foot James J. Smith Bonsai Gallery with more than 100 trees ranging from a Silver Buttonwood bonsai, estimated to be 200 years old, to a unique, twin-trunk Jaboticaba bonsai. All of the bonsai trees are native to the region and have come from the Bahamas, Brazil and Madagascar. The trees are displayed on pedestals made from Florida cap rock that has been quarried from Okeechobee, just 30 minutes inland from Fort Pierce.


For the second year in a row, Heathcote’s Tiger Bark Ficus Bonsai, also known as the Golden Gate Ficus, will be featured at Disney Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival from March 2020 through June 2020 in the World Showcase Japanese Pavilion where over one million visitors will attend the festival highlighting the name and location of the Garden.


The bonsai trees were a gift to Heathcote from the late James J. Smith – an internationally renowned Bonsai Master who was admired by many bonsai students & artists. James J. Smith became an internationally recognized expert on bonsai after learning from some of the most famous bonsai masters in the world. Now visitors come from all over world come to see his breathtaking collection alive and well at Heathcote Botanical Gardens. Today, the trees are carefully cared for by Tom Kehoe, who was undoubtedly Smith’s most devoted bonsai art student. “Bonsai is a unique kind of living sculpture where the material has so much to say about the final design as the artist,” stated Kehoe. “Jim Smith was the mentor to an entire generation of Florida bonsai artists. He taught folks to see the tree in the material. It’s a privilege to be able to work on trees of this quality” he added.


Other gardens at Heathcote include:


A Japanese garden, a Reflection Garden, an Herb Garden, a Rainforest Display, a Native Plants Garden, a Children's Garden, and a Palm & Cycad Walk. Visitors can experience Heathcote by using the self-guided tour map or groups can scheduled guided tours. www.heathcotebotanicalgardens.org


St. Lucie – home to the historic city of Fort Pierce, the vibrant city of Port St. Lucie & beautiful beaches of Hutchinson Island is located on the Atlantic Ocean along the east coast of Florida, 120 miles southeast of Orlando and 115 miles north of Miami with direct access from Florida’s Turnpike, Interstate 95 and State Road 70. The area offers an array of visitor activities including beautiful beaches, championship golf, excellent outdoor and nature adventures, a thriving arts and cultural scene, world class fishing and dozens of unique attractions. A variety of affordable accommodations such as hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts, vacation rentals and an all-inclusive resort are available. For a full listing of places to stay in St. Lucie, go to www.visitstlucie.com/places-to-stay-2/. Nearby commercial airports include Palm Beach International (PBI), Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood (FLL), Miami International Airport (MIA) and Orlando International Airport (MCO). For more details visit www.visitstlucie.com, www.facebook.com/VisitStLucie/; Twitter: @VisitStLucie and Instagram: @VisitStLucie.