Lignumvitae Key is a 300-acre island approximately 1 mile from The Overseas Highway near Mile Marker 78.5. A Lignum Vitae is a small dense tree that produces beautiful purple blossoms and grows in the American tropics. Lignum vitae means “the wood of life” not only dense, but the tree is one of the heaviest woods on earth. It weighs close to 80 pounds per cubic foot, which is heavier than water, so heavy that it easily sinks.
Lignum Vitae purple blossoms
Hundreds of thousands of years ago when sea level was higher than its present level, the Upper Keys were a living coral reef. As sea level fluctuated over time, coral reefs have been alternately submerged and exposed, allowing the coral polyps, the small animals that build the reef, to create large structures. When sea level dropped, the coral was exposed forming the islands of the Florida Keys.
Over time, the island was colonized by plants from the Bahamas, Caribbean and West Indies as seeds were transported by wind, sea and in the intestinal tract of migrating birds, most notably the white-crowned pigeon. The tropical hardwood hammock that thrives on this island was once common on the highest elevations in the Upper Keys.
Aerial view of The Matheson Home
In 1919, William J. Matheson, a wealthy Miami chemist, bought this 280-acre island and built a caretaker’s home with a windmill for electricity and a cistern for rainwater.
Interior of the Matheson home
Today, this hideaway is the visitor center for this island forest. Ranger-guided tours are given December through April. Tours are available 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. For tour reservations call (305) 664-9814. Located one mile west of U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 78.5.
Kayaking is made easy with their kayak ramp at the service dock. The park is open Thursday through Monday. Ranger-guided tours are available December through April, Friday through Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Visit the Matheson House for a look at island living in the 1930s. Bring plenty of water, bug repellent and/or bug suit if you plan on attending the Ranger-guided tour.
A variety of shore, wading and migratory birds may be viewed on the island.
Osprey with a nice catch
Content and photos provide by The Florida State Parks