Colonel Henry Wallace Johnston

From Kentucky to Florida

Today, in 1926, the Green Bay Press-Gazette posted an article titled "Ice Cream Grown on Vine in the yard of Former Kentuckian."

The article was about the fabulous Colonel Henry Wallace Johnston, who, until the age of 50, had operated a hardware store in Lebanon, Kentucky. At midlife, he moved to Homestead, Florida.

In 1912, Johnston created a 20-acre estate called Palm Lodge Tropical Grove. He even liked to dress the part, wearing a tropical outfit complete with a white helmet and looking as if he had just finished playing Jumanji.

Known as the Wizard of Palm Lodge or Florida's Burbank (a nod to California's Luther Burbank ), Johnston added over 8,000 incredible specimens of tropical fruits and flowers, many of them not found elsewhere in America. Palm Lodge gained him widespread recognition. And although Johnston never traveled outside the US, he was a natural marketer. Stories about Johnston include the following:

  • He coined the name "lipstick tree".
  • Rarest among his plants was a flower that produced a perfume called the "Scent of Lilith."
  • Johnston grew the Dumb Cane tree or Dieffenbachia from Cambodia. He would tell folks that if they bit into the leaves, their tongue would be paralyzed for six weeks.
  • Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford brought back rubber plants from Madagascar, but only Colonel Johnston's plants survived.
  • Johnston's Palestine tree fruit was wrapped in cellophane while on the tree to protect against insects. The fruit was used in religious rituals by rabbis.
  • Johnston's gingerbread palm's fruit tasted of gingerbread.
  • Johnston furnished almost all of the tropical exhibits for the state of Florida at the Chicago World's Fair.
  • All of Johnston's plants were grown from seed.
  • Johnston also produced nearly 300 different types of fruits and jellies, all packaged on-site.
  • One of Johnston's specialties was the cultivation of the aloe vera plant. He grew a 15-acre aloe field and, by 1920, was regularly harvesting the leaves and bringing them to Miami, individually wrapped to stop the spines from making the jelly ooze out.
  • And yes, one of Johnston's plants was something he called "the ice cream vine," botanically known as the monstera deliciosa. The fruit resembles a giant ear of corn minus the husk and tastes like a combination of banana, strawberry, and pineapple.

Johnston's lodge was a Florida showplace with no charge for admission. Homestead's Chamber of Commerce showed that 30,000 people, including botanists, visited the lodgeannuallyr. One day, after 2,000 guests had been received, the register revealed that Henry Ford had passed unnoticed in the crowd.

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Colonel Henry Wallace Johnston
Colonel Henry Wallace Johnston

Leave a Comment