The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is generally a hotspot for birding enthusiasts, since it’s a haven for scores of resident and migratory species. But those species might not include crows this fall — because the 15-acre habitat is currently the setting for the “Scarecrows in the Forest” exhibition, a lighthearted display of recycled art creations.

This graceful “island spirit” scarecrow is garbed in native flora accessorized with bright-red beads. (All photos by Misha McRAE)

The imaginative exhibit features scarecrows crafted out of natural and recycled materials by local artists, students and other community members, and installed in special spots on the property. Celebrating the 85th anniversary of its founding this year, the unique open-air “living museum” is acclaimed as the only frost-free subtropical natural conservation habitat and native plant botanical garden in the entire continental United States,

“The exhibit was conceived as an example of recycling and artistic talent,” explained Misha McRAE, executive director of the garden. “Each year, we showcase scarecrows and other forms that fit into the natural beauty and backdrop of the garden.”

As well as enhancing the garden’s attractions, some of the cleverly crafted figures are a reminder that Halloween is approaching fast. For example, visitors to the garden are likely to be startled by a new face in the place — a skeletal fellow supposedly selling “ice scream” in flavors ranging from Boo Berry to Vampire Vanilla.

Each scarecrow, Misha added, is “a surprise around the corner. Each sculpture is a lesson to all guests — using creative talent — on the importance of recycling and repurposing.”

Rules of the exhibit state that scarecrows must be freestanding, no more than 6 feet tall and able to withstand outdoor weather conditions. Visitors to the garden can expect to encounter figures including a winsome pirate lass, a wannabe “royal” and a graceful “island spirit” dressed in beads and native vegetation.

Key West Botanical Garden

The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, widely regarded as an open-air “living museum,” shelters over 529 species of plants native to the Florida Keys, Cuba and the Caribbean.

Even without the serendipitous scarecrows, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is a living wonder that’s well worth exploring. Located at the gateway to Key West, just off College Road at mile marker 5, it was developed during the 1930s by the U.S. Federal Emergency Relief Administration as a showplace for visitors.

These days it’s overseen by the Key West Botanical Garden Society Inc., and it recently received a prestigious honor: Botanic Gardens Conservation International’s Accreditation Certificate recognizing that it holds to the highest international arboretum standards. The garden was lauded for noted achievements in plant conservation, collections management, horticulture, public education, community and cultural activities, conservation actions and sustainability among other elements.

The unique preserve shelters over 529 species of plants native to the Florida Keys, Cuba and the Caribbean, including many threatened and endangered species. Rich in biodiversity, it features two wetland habitats, national and state champion trees, two butterfly gardens, the aforementioned resident and migratory birds, nature trails and boardwalks, seasonal flowers and many other attractions. Green and serene, it’s a sanctuary for nature lovers and those simply seeking a place for relaxing, reading or quiet contemplation.

“It’s always a great day at the garden,” Misha McRAE advised. “It’s a walk back in time to enjoy open spaces, breathe in fresh air and soak up nature — and I invite everyone to explore it.”

“Scarecrows in the Forest” can be viewed through Nov. 30. But please note that it’s not just an exhibit; it’s also a contest with prizes for the top entries — and garden visitors can cast votes to determine the “best in show” winner.