Skip to main content

Beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida

The southern states have a charm all their own. From beaches to deserts, there is a wide array of landscapes to please almost anyone!

Orchids in bloom

Orchids in bloom

There are literally hundreds of botanical gardens spread all across the landscape of America, and each offers its own special beauty. What sets the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, apart from all the other gardens is its focus on specializing in, showcasing, and studying epiphytic plants. From orchids and banyan trees to bamboo, one can find all sorts of wonders at the Selby Gardens.

Epiphytes and Air Plants

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, epiphytes are those that live by existing on other plants. Epiphytic plants generally use other plants for support, deriving their nutrients and moisture from the air.

Good examples of epiphytes are orchids, bromeliads, and Spanish moss. At the Selby Gardens, unusual and distinctive flowers of every hue and color imaginable can be enjoyed while viewing many of these distinctive forms of flora.

Sometimes epiphytes are referred to as air plants. Many of these epiphytes have cupped leaves in which to catch available rainwater or have roots dangling to absorb every bit of moisture from the air. Occasionally, their roots encase and actually cause the death of the host plant, but this is not always the norm.

The Selby Gardens and Foundation

When my mother and I visited my aunt and uncle in Florida in 1998 they took us to see the Selby Gardens in Sarasota. What a feast for the eyes! At that time, there were seven greenhouses maintaining over 20,000 plants. Visitors can see amazingly colorful and exotic orchids, bromeliads, and other flora in a tempered year-round environment.

An orchid identification center as well as a bromeliad identification center makes one aware of plant names as one browses through this massive display. Just about every orchid found in the world can be located here at the Selby Gardens!

The Selby Foundation helps fund research and education as well as having an impact on other programs impacting people in the Sarasota community.

Many volunteers help keep the gardens in tip-top shape and also help with the many social and cultural activities held in the gardens each year.

The Marie Selby Grounds

Wandering the paths of the Selby Botanical Gardens outdoors takes one on a journey through many acres planted with different focus areas. Included are categories of plantings such as the following:

  • Live Oak Grove
  • Bamboo Pavilion
  • Banyan Grove
  • Hibiscus Garden
  • Palm Grove
  • Mangroves
  • Koi Pond
  • Wildflower Garden
  • Azalea Garden
  • Herb Garden
  • Butterfly Garden
  • Baywalk, etc.

Of course, there are also greenhouses, the Selby House, museum shops, other places hosting activities, and the research and the learning center. One can also purchase plants here.

We truly enjoyed strolling through the different parts of this gorgeous garden which borders Sarasota Bay and the Hudson Bayou.

Marie Selby

Marie was born in West Virginia in the year 1885 and was first called by the name of Mariah Minshall. Her dad was a geologist and invented some parts for oil drilling equipment.

Marie's future husband, William, was a partner with his dad in the Selby Oil and Gas Company which later became known as Texaco Oil Company. William and Marie married in 1908 and shared an interest in cross-country automobile racing, camping, boating, and fishing. Marie Selby was happy to have a home built on the site of what was to become the Selby Botanical Gardens years later. William and Marie also had a ranch home in Montana.

Despite being multimillionaires, they lived a relatively quiet life. They loved outdoor activities, which led them to be members of the Sarasota Yacht Club, and Marie became a charter member of the first garden club in Sarasota. She designed the landscaping of their homesite along Sarasota Bay and gradually kept expanding it.

After William died in 1956, Marie continued to live there until her death in 1971. She left the property to the community so that the public could continue to enjoy the gardening efforts that she had initiated and nurtured into the beautiful botanical garden that it has become today.

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens opened to the public on July 7, 1975. The garden has been expanded to include the acreage included today with the help and oversight of the board of directors overseeing the operation along with the help of countless volunteers.

We were so happy to be introduced to this beautiful garden by my aunt and uncle. We got to see plants and trees that we had never previously viewed. The Australian Grass Tree was a most unusual sight. I also found the Bo Tree and its leaves to be most interesting.

The Moreton Bay Fig Tree roots were a thing of beauty. They were large enough to sit upon, in some cases rising up several feet above the ground. The roots of this tree are definitely distinctive and different from most other tree roots.

This photo shown below was used as subject matter for a limited edition lithograph that I produced.

Moreton Bay Fig Tree at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Moreton Bay Fig Tree at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

There were surprises like a sculpture found amidst the interior of a banyan tree. The bamboo forest was tall and offered a shaded rest spot on a warm, sultry day. The koi pond was serene and the colorful fish swam amidst the tropical foliage surrounding that spot with the sound of a small waterfall in the background.

Overall, exploring the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a most pleasant experience, as it is filled with the largest collection of epiphytes that you will probably ever see on American soil.

The other varied plant collections such as the banyan trees and stands of towering bamboo add to the magnificence of this Sarasota garden. I would heartily recommend a visit if you enjoy touring gardens and are in this area of Florida.

If you cannot get there in person be sure to look at this fantastic video!


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods