Gene Joyner's Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens
I had the pleasure recently of going on a private tour at the Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens in West Palm Beach, Florida. I knew that it belonged to a man who was raised there, or at least in the area, all his life and that he planted what some have referred to as the only living tropical rainforest in Florida – or could it be the United States? I expected a lot of plants and trees. I expected to probably be in awe of some. I did not expect what I saw.
Unbelievable Acres is a man-made reproduction of a rainforest, created by Gene Joyner. It started out as a cow pasture, and Gene began planting his rainforest there in 1970. When planted, no trees were over six-foot tall. The Garden now contains three state champion trees that have been certified by the State of Florida, Division of Forestry. It has even been certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation because the large variety of trees and plants attracts so much wildlife. The garden has also been certified as a butterfly sanctuary by The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.
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The gardens have over one hundred sixty different types of tropical fruit plants and trees, forty of which are different citrus varieties. Many are not native and have been brought to the gardens from several different countries by Gene Joyner himself.
There are some amazing sights in there, including Sausage Trees that grow these sausage-looking pods that are up to two feet long. There are Jakfruit trees - Jakfruit is the world’s largest fruit and it can weigh over seventy pounds! The Joboticaba grows grape-like fruit all over the limbs and trunk of the tree and is an amazing sight; I tasted one of the fruits but didn’t like it very much.
Other unusual trees include the Black Sapote, also known as Chocolate Pudding Fruit because it grows these large green fruit which, when opened, are chocolate colored on the inside.
I could not even begin to try to list all of the thousands of trees and plants that are in Unbelievable Acres; it was truly an incredible sight to see. Except for the walking path, every inch of it had plants and trees – short and tall, and many very tall trees that created a canopy which actually kept the area cool. In fact, due to the garden’s rainforest-like setting, they are able to grow tropical foliage and flowering plants that would normally have to be grown in a greenhouse setting due to their cold tenderness. I’ve never been to a rainforest elsewhere, but it sure did feel like being in one.
The tour was guided by Gene Joyner himself and he spoke throughout the walk, telling us about all the plants and trees and where they came from and when he planted them – it was a fascinating “lecture.” The tour took one and a half hours, with very brief stops here and there to admire the foliage or eat some fruit or flowers – an hour and a half through winding trails and awesome scenery! Did you catch the part about eating flowers? Yes, we ate a flower that actually tasted like a sour apple! I believe it was called Angel Wings.
Besides the amazing tour with the amazing scenery, one of my favorite parts was listening to the bamboo “talk” (as it was said by Gene). There was a lot of bamboo growing throughout the garden and the giant stalks swayed in the wind and as they swayed they banged into the other stalks and created a very cool sound.
We saw so many beautiful trees, plants, and flowers – lots of orchids and bromeliads and amazing vines climbing the trees. We also saw many unusual, yet beautiful, plants like the Chicken Gizzard pictured here to the right.
There is an area in the garden where they sell many of the plants that are seen throughout the tour and when we were there they were having a half-off sale so we bought a couple of plants for our entryway and I’m so excited to see them grow – I’m sure we’ll be the only house on the block growing a Chicken Gizzard!
Many national and local magazines have featured this amazing garden, including Southern Living, Kitchen Gardening, and Florida Gardening. More than five hundred (wow!) TV shows have even been shot on location there since 1972 to present – including HGTV, CNN, Victory Garden and others.
If you’re ever in the area of West palm Beach, Florida and you enjoy gardens this is a must see for sure – all visits are by appointment only so call (561-242-1686) ahead!