Architecture and Flora of Key West

The hand-crafted, wood-frame houses of Key West are a multicultural blend of Bahamian, New England, and Victorian influences. Most were built by 19th century seafaring carpenters who relied solely on their ship-building experience to construct the 3000 historic homes still standing on the island today!  Many have been re-modeled from private residences into bed and breakfast inns, like the one where we stayed last week:


Land has always been limited on this tiny 2 x 4 mile island, so homes were sited close to the street (with very little front yard,) in order to leave space for separate kitchen buildings and outhouses in the back yard. The Garden House was no exception to this, and our room was located on the second floor in a structure behind the main house overlooking the courtyard and pool area. (the pool was just to the left of this shot)

20130806_095907See the sundeck above the pool area? It was directly opposite our front door, and we enjoyed sipping coffee there several times daily! 🙂


If you direct your eye to the top right corner of the photo above, you’ll notice trees with orange flowers. These are the beautiful Delonix Regia (aka Royal Poincianas) that seem to grow EVERYWHERE around town. Here’s a close-up of a flowering branch that drooped over the walkway near our room:


The flowers are large, with four, spreading, orange-red petals up to 3″ long, and a fifth, upright petal called the standard, which is spotted and slightly larger.  FYI, you can currently see this branch (cut into segments, devoid of its flowers) sitting in moist potting soil on my patio. Yes, that’s right, I nicked it and hope it grows roots! 😉

One of the first things we did after check-in, was stretch our legs with a walk around the neighborhood.  We quickly realized small front yards don’t preclude large, lush gardens:


I was thrilled to see the endangered Keys Tree-Cactus (aka Pilosocereus robinii) in several front yards, but this was one of the best:


When fully mature, the Keys Tree-Cactus can reach as high as 32′ with dozens of spreading branches, although most of the larger plants have been destroyed by development and hurricanes.

P. Robinii is native to Florida but not, perhaps for much longer: as of 2009 only eight known populations remain (on four Keys.)  Even more troubling, this columnar cactus predominantly reproduces when wind-thrown branches produce roots and give rise to new upright stems. Reproduction by seed production/dispersal is severely limited; from 2007–2010 only four plants in the Florida Keys produced fruits. 😦

One species that didn’t seem threatened was wild orchids!  We saw them blooming in SO many trees:


Another common sight were Staghorn ferns layered amid epiphytic vines on various types of palms. Look at the size of the basal frond encircling the tree on the left!


….and speaking of palms, what a fantastically landscaped property appears in the next picture, although I wasn’t thrilled with the angle of the sun when I snapped it. 🙄

20130805_152041 (1)

One of my biggest pet-peeves is owners of huge houses who don’t use extenders with their hanging baskets!  I was happy to see this resident understood their importance! Looks perfectly scaled, yes? 🙂 🙂

Some people apparently preferred a more xeric look: with fretwork and wrought iron this detailed, I can understand why!


I’m not sure how I feel about this next front yard:

20130805_152200Again it’s xeric, but not the best succulent choices?  That enormous container is to-die-for, though.  I keep imagining it full of ultra-lush tropicals!

Well that’s it for now…I’ve got one more Key West post to go re: the beach and sightseeing, but those are photos for another day!

Until next time….

🙂 🙂 🙂


23 thoughts on “Architecture and Flora of Key West

  1. I had no idea cacti grew in the Keys. One of these days we hope to make it to southern FL and all the way to Key West. Love those plants 🙂

    • I hope you make it out this way…Florida isn’t the flat, horrible, old folk place I’d been lead to believe! there is a lot of diversity, even in climate!
      That Keys Tree Cactus is really being squeezed out by development. Apparently the last 10yrs have seen their numbers (outside protected state parks) plummet. I’d read about them, but this was my first time seeing them in person. Such a sturdy tree, very reminiscent of your western Saquaros!

  2. Such beautiful homes, I love the white wood and decorative metal. I’d also love the huge pot, it might need an olive tree! The orchids are gorgeous of course but WOW WOW WOW to the Delonix Regia, that’s really my kind of plant, bursting with passion and exuberance 🙂

    • That bright orange is so vibrant! From a distance, you’d never realize that one petal has a splotchy pattern!
      So far the cuttings I took are still alive. I’ll keep you posted on their progress!

    • it really is remarkable how much is jammed in those tiny lots! At our B&B we had to push the top plants aside to see what was growing behind…and some spots were very heavily layered!

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