No, these tropical gardens along the Caloosahatchee River aren’t made of rubber. They’re here because of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone hobnobbing over how to find a way to grow a rubber substitute in America.
Location: Fort Myers
Fees: $20 adult, $11 ages 6-12 for complete estates tour with walk through gardens. Other tour options available, including a behind-the-scenes garden tour held on Wednesdays.
Open: 9 AM – 5:30 PM daily
The trio formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation in 1927, which collected trees and plants from all over the world. – more than 17,000 specimens of nearly 2,200 species planted here at the estate.
In 1925, Firestone gave Edison a banyan tree from Calcutta. Starting from a tree that was four feet high and two inches in diameter, it’s now the largest in the United States, a forest in itself, covering more than an acre of ground.
While Edison’s tropical botanical garden lost a lot of specimens in the 2004-2005 hurricanes, it still has plenty of oddities to examine. On the botanical garden tour, your guide will talk about Edison’s interest in poisonous trees like the Akee Apple (don’t nibble on those fruits!) and his wife’s love of orchids and bromeliads.
As for synthetic rubber, Edison did eventually discover a type of goldenrod that seemed a good candidate, and was experimenting with it when he died in 1931. In addition to walking through the lush tropical gardens along the regular tour, you can sign up for a special “Tour of the Gardens” held 9 AM on Thursday and Saturday, which takes you behind the scenes to the propagation nursery. Cuttings and trees are available for purchase in the Garden Shoppe.