logo spelling Sunken Gardens with flamingo illustration in between the two words
logo spelling Sunken Gardens with flamingo illustration in between the two words

Plants

Towering Palms and Brilliant Blooms

Adding to the uniqueness of Sunken Gardens is the age of many of the plant species that thrive here. The Gardens are home to some of St. Pete’s oldest and most unusual specimens hailing from all over the globe, with some planted a century ago.

The Gardens have been preserved for future generations through the interest of the community and are now maintained by the City of St. Petersburg. Our small horticulture staff strives to maintain the beauty and uniqueness of our historic gardens, teeming with life. They are supported by a dedicated team of volunteers who give their time, talent, & energy to Sunken Gardens to make it the amazing showplace and educational venue people from near and far can’t get enough of.

The founders of Sunken Gardens, George and Eula Turner, wrote letters during their courtship in the early 1900s, sharing their love of wildflowers, grapefruit, geraniums, and more. Many of the original plants are still here to enjoy and the vision that was created continues to provide a tranquil oasis in the middle of a bustling city.
pink orchid with multiple blooms

Orchids

Orchidaceae
Orchids are considered to be the largest family of flowering plants, in terms of species. You’ll find these tropical beauties in our Orchid Arbor as well as mounted to trees and palms throughout the Gardens. While most hail from countries around the world, some are native to Florida and endangered due to development and poaching. We obtain our orchids from responsible sources, many of which are vendors
The commercial orchids of house culture are of tropical origin and are predominately epiphytes (air plants) of the treetops; but a few are terrestrial. Wild orchids will often attach themselves to the bark of trees or the surface of other plants. There is a great diversity among orchids in habitat and morphology (plant/flower design and reproductive behaviors). Except for a few self-pollinating types, orchids are generally pollinated by insects or hummingbirds. The attractant may be nectar or possibly blossoms mimicking the appearance of the female of a certain insect species in order to lure males to pollinate the flower.
vibrant pink bougainvillea plant in the foreground of dark green bushes

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea
Towering colorful bracts (leaves) of fuchsia, purple, red, and pink bougainvillea still cascade along the trellises and exterior walls during the coolest months of the year. The actual flowers are the size of a pencil eraser and hardly noticeable, leaving the bracts to lure pollinators who might otherwise miss them.
Tropical bougainvillea blooms have beckoned guests to the gardens since its earliest days, including baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, posing for a photo in the early 1960s.
Stems as large as tree trunks testify to the old age of the vines with many planted from one-gallon pots in 1953 or before and are still thriving today. Plumbing pipes support our historic specimens, which is fitting since our founder, George Turner, was originally a plumber.
close up of bananas growing on a banana tree

Bananas & Papayas

Musaceae/Caricaya papaya
You’ll find papayas and various banana species in the same Wedding Lawn spot George Sr. planted them decades ago when Sunken Gardens was Turner’s Papaya Farm. It was believed that a new industry could be established in making papaya fountain syrups, punch drinks, and crystalized fruits. The Turners sold over 125 pounds a day. From sweet “ice-cream” bananas to the red Abyssinian bananas hailing from Ethiopia, we’re proud to carry on this sweet, tropical tradition.

“See giant clumps of banana trees hanging heavy with fruit. Of interest to all are papayas which are becoming well known both for their medicinal properties and their delicious flavor.” - Matriarch, Eula Turner’s advertising copy notes.
view looking up at tall royal palms

Royal Palms

Roystonea regia
The large royal palms at Sunken Gardens are among the oldest and tallest in Central Florida at over 80 feet tall. George Turner Sr. and his son, Ralph (age 14 at the time), planted them as small seedlings in 1930. They eventually became too large to sell and remain one of the grandest features of the Gardens to this day. Due to their cold sensitivity, many were lost during the devastating freeze of 1962. We’re proud to maintain these giants today.
close up of rainbow eucalyptus tree

Rainbow Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus deglupta
This colorful, captivating tree is one of our most-loved specimens and towers over the other mature tropical foliage. It is native to the Phillipines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. This extremely fast grower can climb up to 125 ft tall, with peeling bark that reveals the gorgeous colors underneath. The hues change throughout the year, as rain causes swelling that makes the bark peel away, exposing shades of pink, orange, blue, purple, and many more. Rainbow eucalyptus requires copious amounts of irrigation, which is why we placed it in the lowest area of Sunken Gardens. Like most fast-growing trees, it is not wind resistant, thus we have placed it far from any structures in the Gardens.
courtyard surrounded and canopied by big oak trees

Southern Live Oak

Quercus virginiana
In 2019, arborists estimated the southern live oak in the Oak Pavilion to be approximately 150 years old with a limb span of over 150 feet. In 1977, the National Arborist Association recognized this historic specimen, commending those who had the vision and foresight to preserve it. This oak shaded the homestead of our founding family after they built it in 1931.
Southern live oaks are native to Florida and provide more food and habitat for birds and pollinators than most other trees. As a “keystone” species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, it is one of the most beneficial and impactful trees one can grow.
Close up of beauty berry plant

Native Florida Plants

Florida is known as the “Land of Flowers”, so named by Ponce DeLeon in 1513, who was likely influenced by the dazzling display of spring wildflowers upon his arrival. From wildflowers in our Pollinator Garden to historic live oaks shading our sunken paths, these decorative native plants are truly “made in America” and provide important food and habitat for Florida’s butterflies, over 300 species of bees, local and migrating birds, and other wildlife. You’ll find our state butterfly, the Zebra longwing, flitting about passion vines (Passiflora). Monarchs dazzle while nectaring and laying eggs on white and pink Florida milkweed (Asclepias). Requiring less water, pesticides, and fertilizer than other species, native plants are an advantageous addition to any garden while creating critical wildlife corridors in urban landscapes. Learn more via your local Native Plant Society.
two parrots with their trainer and people onlooking

Animals at the Gardens

Learn about the birds, turtles, fish, and wildlife that call Sunken Gardens their home.
cream sunken gardens logo with pelican icon
Photo Credit: City of St. Petersburg & Julia Calvert
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram