Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park

77200 Overseas Highway , Islamorada, Florida, US, 33036 | Directions

The virgin tropical hardwood hammock that thrives on this island was once common on most of Florida's Upper Keys; most of these forests have been lost to development on other islands. In 1919, William J. Matheson, a wealthy Miami chemist, bought this tiny island and built a caretaker's home with a windmill for electricity and a cistern for rainwater. Today, his hideaway is the visitor center for this island forest. Ranger-guided tours are given twice daily, Friday through Sunday. The park is accessible only by private boat or tour boat. Tour boat services, as well as boat and kayak rentals, are available from Robbie's Marina. Located one mile west of U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 78.5.

Park is open Thursday through Monday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tours of the historic Matheson House and grounds are available at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

A variety of shore, wading and migratory birds may be viewed on the island.

Thousands of years ago, the island began as a living coral reef jutting up from the sea floor. As great quantities of water began to freeze into glaciers at the earth?s poles, the sea level dropped, exposing the top of the reef and forming an island composed of fossilized coral rock.

As time passed, storm tides and waves left seaweed, driftwood and other organic debris stranded on the bare rock. This material began decaying, forming small pockets of soil in depressions in the coral rock. Then came a few seeds from other tropical islands D some floating on the sea or carried by the winds, while others came in the digestive tracts of migrating birds. Here, the seeds sprouted and began to grow, drop leaves, produce flowers and seeds, mature, die and decay. With the passing of each generation, a complex and diverse tropical hammock colonized the remains of this ancient coral reef.

The Matheson House, built in 1919, serves as the park's Visitor Center and offers a glimpse of how island people lived during a 'simpler' time when most of their needs were met by the land and sea around them. The Visitor Center is open Friday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

Visitors can rent powerboats and kayaks from "Robbie's Marina" or a number of other local marinas. Knowledge of the channels is critical because of the surrounding shallow grass flats. Kayaks and canoes can float across most flats offering spectacular chances to see a variety of wildlife from dolphins and manatees to sharks and rays.

Boat Tours

Tour boat service to the island is available through "Robbie's Marina." Tour boat departs 1/2-hour before listed tour times. Ranger-guided tours of the island are available Thursday through Monday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Anglers can fish for a variety of species from Bonefish on the flats, to Tarpon in the channels. Snapper, Spanish Mackerel and Snook are also found in the area. Caribbean Spiny Lobster and Stone Crab are also found in the waters surrounding the park and can be harvested when in season. A Florida saltwater fishing license, with special stamps for Lobster and Snook, is required. Fishing may be done around the island, but not within 100 feet of the nearest dock.

Some local marinas, as well as "Robbie's Marina," run Eco-tours that involve brief stops at the island and snorkeling in the area around the island and out on the reef. Remember, all snorkeling requires a "Diver Down" flag. All snorkeling must be conducted 100 feet from the nearest dock.

Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is located one mile west of U.S.1 at Mile Marker 78.5. Access is by private boat or charter boats at nearby marinas.