Imagine a garden, acres upon acres of lush, green jackfruit trees, baobabs, and durian trees hanging low with fruit. Black sapotes are strewn on the ground, waiting to be picked apart for their sweet, luscious chocolate-pudding flesh. You can sun yourself by the water lily pond, or take shade under a wild tamarind tree. This fertile, prelapsarian paradise, rich with spice groves and nut plants, and a feast of tropical fruit trees, was the vision of one pioneer woman: Mary Calkins Heinlein.
A homesteader in Redland, about 20 miles from Miami, Heinlein came across an 1896 newspaper article that mentioned farmers in South Dade county were growing avocados, sapodillas, and pears, and came up with the idea to create a space where such delightful fruit might grow together. In 1935, she campaigned county commissioners for this garden of abundance. In 1943, the county commissioner Preston B. Bird secured a deal to acquire land and start building Heinlein’s tropical fruit haven. Heinlein herself served as the park’s first superintendent in 1944, a position she held until her retirement in 1959. The park is now officially named Preston B. Bird and Mary Heinlein Fruit and Spice Park after the two people who made the magic happen.
Today, more than 500 varieties of fruits, spices, and herbs are grown over 37 acres of the park. There are 180 varieties of mango, 40 varieties of banana, and countless other plants, both edible and not. A café serves seasonal smoothies and shakes made from the fruit, and the park holds annual tropical fruit festivals and other events highlighting the garden’s diverse flora.
Visitors are allowed to eat whatever fruit they find on the ground (only if they can identify it first as being edible). The rules for garden etiquette include this gem: “Carving trees is not permitted because it causes harm to the trees, but they can be hugged.”