Kanapaha Botanical Gardens: The West Side

Not far from the Archer exit off I-75, lies one of Gainesville’s true treasures: the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. The Kanapaha Botanical Gardens stretch across 62 acres of land and are named for their close proximity to Lake Kanapaha.


The word Kanapaha comes from the Timucua Indian words which mean “palmetto leaves” and “house.” Combined, they refer to the thatched dwellings of the original inhabitants of the forests bordering Lake Kanapaha.

The North Florida Botanical Society, a non-profit educational organization, originally signed a lease agreement with Alachua County in 1978 for access to a 33-acre tract of land to develop into a public botanical garden; it wasn’t until 1982, when the society gained access to the remaining 29 acres. The North Florida Botanical Society is responsible for developing, funding, and operating the gardens.

Map BackThe botanical gardens are divided into two sides: the west side and the east side as shown in the map.

The trail on the west side is roughly a half-mile walk, while the east side is about a mile and a half walk. Since there are 62 acres to cover, we thought it was best to tackle the gardens one side at a time.

We began our walk through the Azalea-Camellia Garden. These shrubs are unique because they bloom profusely in the shade unlike most other plants. Although there are Azaleas native to the U.S., more species are found in Asia. Azaleas prefer acidic soils and are able to flourish here in Florida.


Our next stop along the trail was the Rose Garden. Fun Fact: wild roses are all about five: five sepals, five petals, five stamens, and a five-part ovary. Ornamental roses with their layers of pedals have developed through horticultural practices and became the flowers that we have come to admire and share with loved ones.


Next was the Children’s Garden, created for the children visiting the garden. In the Children’s Garden was a treasure wall, hedge maze, and a koi pond with beautiful water structures.


As we continued on the trail was a beautiful gazebo in the Butterfly Garden. Visitors are free to sit down, relax, and enjoy the view!


Next up was the Bulb Garden, which contains plants grown from bulbs. The term “bulb” is used loosely here; the garden includes plants that have corms, rhizomes, tubers, and true bulbs.  Bulbs allow plants to better survive through adverse environmental conditions by storing the energy reserve needed to re-sprout if the above ground portion dies back.

Finishing up the trail was the water garden.  The water garden was made in collaboration with the Gainesville Regional Utilities in 1994. The water garden is a public demonstration of reclaimed water use. The water meets state drinking water standards and is high in phosphorous and nitrogen, two of the three macronutrients found in common commercial fertilizers. As the water travels through the waterfalls, streams, and ponds, the three processes help strip the water of contaminants that are undesirable for potable water purposes.


There are so many views along the path that should not be overlooked.  So, don’t hesitate, check out the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens and feel free to pack a picnic basket for a truly unique experience.

We plan on going back, and not just to tour the east side, but to have our own picnic.  If you see us, stop by and say hello.