One Million Trees and Beyond by Tim L. Tetzlaff


“Only a poet-naturalist can do justice to this most elegant, graceful and noble species…Only after a few years had elapsed I was fortunate to obtain six little plants. They were set out on my place here at Naples…All the specimens I planted will be great ornaments of my place in the wilderness.”
~Dr. Henry Nehrling

The gargantuan Indian laurel fig trees you see by the pond along Goodlette Road or that you stroll beneath within Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens near the Florida panther and the new South American species are those specimens first planted in this soil in the mid-1920s by garden founder Dr. Nehrling. Indeed, they have fulfilled their promise and have become the “great ornaments” Nehrling envisioned – although Naples is no longer the wilderness he encountered when he arrived to our seaside town in 1919.

From Nehrling’s original collection, many more trees were added through the decades whose shade we now enjoy – a number of which have received historic recognition. Hundreds more specimens have been added in just the last few years that you will find within and around the animals as well as rarely highlighted palms that line the center walkway between the solar array in the parking area to serve as a living laboratory and resource for local landscape enthusiasts.

A dedicated and passionate on-site horticulture team takes great care in the stewardship of all these botanicals under the direction of Danielle Green, Director of Gardens and Grounds, a degreed horticulturist and certified arborist who served for years as President of the Association of Zoological Horticulture. Such is the expertise needed to blend the needs of the plants themselves in balance with the animals that live around and beneath them for the health of all. Green also participates in domestic and international conferences and interacts with colleagues throughout the Caribbean.

Our commitment extends far beyond the grounds of our garden. In 2009, we began planting trees in other countries including planting four trees for every membership sold and one tree for every student who visits on a field trip. I am honored to report that late last year, we crossed the threshold of planting over one million trees!

In 2018, Naples Zoo became the international headquarters of the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG), a consortium of zoos, gardens, and universities located on five continents. As over four out of five plant species on this island nation are found naturally only there, the risk of extinction is extreme given Madagascar has already lost 80% of its natural areas. But the success of MFG’s decades’ long reforestation efforts within and around the Betampona Strict Nature Reserve is hopeful. The Reserve was one of only two protected areas in Madagascar that grew over the last decade. I am beyond proud of this accomplishment by the team of nearly 100 staff in Madagascar. In addition, the MFG has received two prestigious Darwin Initiative grants to rescue numerous rare species that are known only in small forest fragments before they are also lost to deforestation. The team records and preserves them in seed banks as well as plants them to maintain growing specimens at Parc Ivoloina, another site the MFG stewards.

None of this would be possible without the foundation of this 105-year-old botanical garden, now a member of the American Public Gardens Association and Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as being accredited by the Morton Register of Arboreta. And with these commitments, it’s heartening that there will be generations to continue growing the garden and to walk in our footsteps beneath the shade of the mature trees we have long enjoyed – and that these giant trees will remain landmark touchstones within our ever changing community.

TOP PHOTO: One of the nurseries growing rescued plant species in Madagascar.

1590 Goodlette-Frank Rd N, Naples, FL,   34102

Tim L. Tetzlaff,  Director of Conservation, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens

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