University of South Florida
Botanical Gardens
Tampa, Florida
December, 2010

This garden was established in 1968. Like many university gardens, it began as a research and teaching resource for the Biology Department, but grew to become a major visitor attraction and outreach component of the university. And like many university gardens, financial support from the university has slowly eroded over time. This garden looks like it is still trying to find itself after losing university funding in 2002. Much of the garden is beautiful, but much looks run-down and neglected.

welcome sign

An unusually cold December was not the best time to visit. Although it was early afternoon when I arrived, many plants were still covered with cloth for frost protection, as you see in this picture of the Bromeliad Garden. You’ll see covered plants in many of the pictures.

Bromeliad Garden

The garden is seven acres but feels smaller than that, probably because there is just one loop trail to follow. There is also a lot of open space so it seems like you can look across the entire garden.

garden view

There are a lot of beautiful palms and cycads, many of them quite old and magnificent. This clump of
Phoenix reclinata is a great example.

phoenix reclinata

There are a number of garden areas including an herb garden and a butterfly garden, both of which looked dismal during this visit. Also featured are a Cactus and Succulent Garden and a Carnivorous Plant display.

Carnivorous Plants

None of these garden areas are particularly impressive. I think they should concentrate more on the things they can do well and not try to grow everything.

The Shade Garden is quite beautiful. It has a great diversity of plants and they seem to be thriving.

Shade Garden

There is also a beautiful lath house/conservatory with a great collection of orchids and other tropicals.


Near the entrance to the garden is a short spur trail through native Florida pine scrub. Staff could do a lot more to enhance and interpret this trail. I found it one of the most interesting aspects of the garden but there is no signage and it doesn’t even appear on the garden brochure/map.

Pine Scrub

Overall, there are a lot of beautiful and interesting things at this garden but they’ve tried to be so many things that the total effect was a letdown. If they were to concentrate on the things that they can do well, and the things that make their garden unique, this could be an exciting and important garden. As it is, it’s a great place to visit and a valuable community resource but it could be much more.

To see more photos of the gardens, click
here to visit the USF Botanical Gardens web page.

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