Dent Smith Trail
WELCOME TO THE DENT SMITH TRAIL
ONE OF THE JEWELS OF FLORIDA'S SPACE COAST BOTANICAL SCENE
The Florida Institute of Technology located in Melbourne Florida, is host to one of the United States more underrated and diverse palm collections. Founding President Dr. Jerome Keuper began planting palms on the campus soon after FIT was established at its present location in the late 1950's. the trail was dedicated in 1968. It has seen it's renaisance in recent years, thanks to efforts from the Central Florida Palm and Cycad Society, the on site maintenance staff and administrators as well as local gardening enthusiasts.
SMITH'S TROPICAL PALM OASIS IN A WARM TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Melbourne Florida sits well within the USDA's zone 9b. Average winter lows can be expected to reach between twenty five and thirty degrees fahrenheit every winter. Local record lows in the last half century have dipped below twenty degrees on several occasions. Despite these climatic challenges, the Dent Smith Trail has several Microclimate advantages working for it. The above photos show the flowing creeks that meander throughout the garden. This water; although seemingly insignifficant, offers a tempering effect through its continuous motion and subsequent adhibition of relatively warm water. Overhead canopy protection is aforded by old growth oaks, pines, Bay Laurals and even older palms that occlude radiant heat loss, as well as rebuffing the air from cold fronts. The campus, with its multi story buildings also buffer the hammock from the feirce northwest winds and advective cold, that usually claim the lives of many subtropical plants in the central Florida area. As a result of these features, the trail is home to subtropical species of palms, that without these conditions would not survive here in central Florida.
Shown above, you see two examples of the varied range of subtropical palm species in the park. On my numerous trips throughout the last ten years I have found Pinanga, Hyophorbe, Areca, Dypsis, Dictyosperma and various Coccothrinax and Copernicia thriving in this unique place.
GIANT TREES ARE TESTAMENT TO THE LAST HALF CENTURY OF SUCCESS
The staff at FIT are working in conjunction with various entities to carry on Mr. Smith and Dr. Kueper's legacy of the nearly two hundred species of palms that make the collection. By adding new species that have been donated, future generations will come to see a diverse collection of mature and well cared for palms.
Should you ever find yourself in the Melbourne Florida area; and you like palms, make it a point to set aside some time for this amazing park. I have spent many hours enjoying the garden's beauty as have many others in the past. One of my memories of the garden was of a poor old Coccothrinax crintia that endured decades of systematic torture by passersby who would set the fibers on the trunk alight. Despite this indignity the palm endeavored as have all of the palms in cito at one time or another. The poor old man palm was dispatched several years ago, perhaps by one of the recent hurricanes. So, I guess It would be fitting to dedicate this article to Dr. Keuper, Dent Smith and the late Coccothrinax who all worked hard in their special ways to make life a little greener for the community around them.