Botanical Gems

Unusual Trees and Plants are The Ringling’s Other Works of Art

Workshops and guided garden tours throughout the season give museum-goers a greater understanding of the botanical gems in the collection.

By Ilene Denton December 2, 2019 Published in the December 2019 issue of Sarasota Magazine

One of more than 2,000 trees on the Ringling Museum campus.


Glorious works of art from the Baroque period to the present day fill the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the official art museum of the state of Florida. What adds immeasurably to the museum complex’s appeal are the natural works of art—the thousands of unusual trees and plants that enhance the 66-acre bayfront complex.

Workshops and guided garden tours throughout the season give museum-goers a greater understanding of the botanical gems in the collection and inspiration for their own gardens.

Mable Ringling

Mable Ringling was the first president of the Founders Garden Club, now part of the Sarasota Garden Club, and she planted her magnificent rose garden in 1913. Today, with some 1,200 rose bushes of many varieties, it’s the oldest continuously growing rose garden in Florida. Rose lovers will want to mark their calendars for a Family Saturday in the rose garden on Dec. 7.

Offered on Mondays from November through April, Grounds and Gardens tours take visitors on a 90-minute stroll around the Ringling grounds, highlighting its shaving brush trees, which bloom with bright pink pom-poms; a monkey puzzle tree, native to South America; a tiger claw, whose bright red blossoms brighten the landscape; two rainbow eucalyptus; and 14 banyans, including a huge one near the Ca d’Zan driveway that was named a Florida Millennium Landmark Tree. The Ringling recently achieved Level 2 accreditation as an arboretum; among the requirements are having a minimum of 100 different species, varieties or cultivars of trees or woody plants. (In fact, the tree inventory software TreeKeeper has catalogued 2,299 trees on the Ringling grounds.)

On Jan. 11, Ringling Arboretum staff will lead an environmental stewardship workshop, with information on the proper use of fertilizers, composting, landscaping to conserve energy, integrated pest management and the principles of Florida-friendly landscaping. 

And on Feb. 29, in conjunction with the exhibit, Syd Solomon: Concealed and Revealed, rose garden horticulturist Kai Sacco will lead a workshop on the Art and Science of South Florida. Sacco will lead a walking tour of museum grounds, discussing coastal ecosystems, red tide, pollinators and the importance of native plants.

For complete information about this season’s garden workshops and special events, visit

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