- This remote island is a prime example of how the Keys appeared before thousands of tourists, highways, etc. converged on the region. William J. Matheson purchased the key in 1919 for experimentation with native plants found in tropical hardwood hammocks. The island is appropriately named Lignumvitae, meaning "tree of life." The species is one of the hardest native woods in America. A modest historical visitor center bearing his name offers exhibits and book sales.
The key is accessible only by boat. Private tour boats leave the southern end of Upper Matecumbe Key Thursday through Monday. Times vary per season. The park office provides the most current information. If you arrive by private boat, moor at the main dock and join a guided walk. This is a park requirement.
Folks wishing to fish, scuba dive or snorkel may explore the 10,000 acres of submerged parkland. Mooring buoys on the northwest side of the island must be used.
Wildlife viewing is prime! On the trip over, keep an eye out for manatee in the seagrass and bottle-nosed dolphins in deep waters. The crystal-clear aquamarine water affords the opportunity to view a variety of marine life including stingrays, sea turtles and the colorful parrot fish. Fabulous bird watching opportunities wait. You'll be treated to sights of white-crowned pigeons, brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, and a plethora of wading birds, terns and gulls. If visiting during he spring and fall migration period, look for warblers and vireos in the hammocks. Other less obvious inhabitants include colorful tree snails, swallowtail butterflies, and the golden orb spider.
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