One of Lousiana’s best-kept secrets, lies on a geographic oddity on the coast – Avery Island. Miles from any large body of water, this salt dome is referred to as an island because it is surrounded by wetlands.
Avery Island is most famous for being the home of the McIlhenny Company, the makers of Tobasco Hot Sauce. But there’s more to this destination than this famed American factory.
The island is home to Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre botanical garden that opened to the public in 1935. This garden is more than just flowers though. Here are 5 captivating reasons to visit Jungle Gardens:
Jungle Gardens Bird City
Jungle Gardens contains a bird sanctuary aptly named Bird City. Edward Avery McIlhenny created the sanctuary in 1895 when he learned that snowy egrets were nearly extinct due to plume hunters.
He found surviving egrets along the coast and brought them back to Avery Island where he tended them until their release in the fall for migration. They returned the following spring, bringing even more egrets with them. Each year they continued to return with more feathered friends, until Bird City’s rookery became home to an estimated 100,000 egrets.
Since we visited Jungle Gardens in mid-October, the rookery was empty. The egrets had already begun their fall migration. But I hope to return one-day in the fall to see these beautiful birds!
Ancient Oak Trees
One of my favorite parts of our drive through Jungle Gardens was seeing the century-old oak trees. Laden with Spanish moss, limbs sprawling in all directions, I could have stayed for hours taking pictures of these majestic trees. However, the sultry Louisiana heat and my kids wouldn’t allow it. I did get one good shot though!
There are two trees on the property that particularly stand out. The Cleveland Oak, named after President Grover Cleveland and boasting a girth of almost 25 feet, this tree is estimated to be more than 300 years old!
In addition to creating Bird City and planting hundreds of species of flowers and plants, McIlhenny planted more than 64 types of bamboo. This makes Jungle Gardens one of the oldest timber bamboo groves in America.
There were several walking trails throughout the garden, so it was easy to get an up close look at all of the plants. My girls loved running through the bamboo ‘forest’.
Jungle Gardens Buddha
Perhaps the most surprising thing we found in Jungle Gardens was the Buddha statue. In 1936, McIlhenny was gifted the 900-year-old statue by family friends in New York.
It was little disappointing that we had to take pictures of the Buddha through glass windows. However, one of the statue’s ears was broken by a guest years ago and the family keeps the shrine locked to protect it from further damage.
McIlhenny built a shrine for the Buddha and set it atop one of the ‘7 Hills of Knowledge’ in the garden. He even dug a lagoon and built a stone bridge to complement the little temple.
Our trip to Avery Island was a welcome respite from the monotony at Fort Polk. A trip to the ‘island’ is not complete without a visit to Jungle Gardens!
My only regret was that we didn’t make the trip during the spring when everything is bloom and the egrets are there. However, it’s just a good excuse to visit again in the future!