Within the first few moments of being on Lignumvitae Key, you notice a beautiful two-story home in the middle of a freshly cut lawn. You pass by the 17th-century cannons that line the yard as you walk up the wooden pathway to the home decorated by native stones. Investigating the stone exterior reveals fossils from corals and other sea creatures that thrived in the ancient ocean 100,000 years ago.
Inside, the house smells of seasoned pine from the beautiful Dade County pine floors and walls. The park ranger will guide you through the home’s interior. Exploring the different rooms gives you a glimpse into island living in the 1930s.
Exiting the house, you investigate the cistern filled by the copper gutters coming off the roof, the only way to collect fresh water on this island paradise. A tour around the yard reveals more surprises as you discover the hurricane shed at the back of the yard and remnants of the old truck that would carry coconuts to and from the grove.
Now, into the hardwood hammock forest with the park ranger leading the way. This hammock is one of the only remaining old growth hardwood hammocks in the Keys and is closed to visitors without a guide. On the shady path you will discover many secrets hiding in the trees. Look for the “jewels” of the forest, the Liguus tree snails that feast on the lichens that grow on the tree trunks. Keep your eye out for flitting butterflies, especially the rare Florida purplewing that uses crabwood trees as its host species.
The hammock tour ends at a water-filled solution hole (pit) ¼ mile into the woods. This is a good place to look for birds as they stop to take a drink or to feed on the insects flying above the freshwater oasis. As you leave the island you look out over seagrass flats at the impossibly turquoise blue water. It has been a great day!
Ranger tours are offered December through April at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday.