Everglades Biographies

John Clayton Gifford

John Gifford, the first American to hold a doctorate in forestry, was Assistant Professor of Forestry at Cornell University before moving to Coconut Grove in 1902. As a bank official, nurseryman, and land-development company entrepreneur, Gifford quickly joined the drainage movement to reclaim the Everglades. His primary interest was experimentation with introduced trees that would absorb water and dry up the south Florida wetlands. In 1906, Gifford introduced the cajupet melaleuca, an Australian native, to Florida, planting seeds at his home on Biscayne Bay and at a nursery in Davie, Broward County. Gifford spread his ideas about drainage through numerous publications. His book The Everglades and other essays relating to southern Florida was dedicated "to the memory of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Father of the Everglade Drainage Project". His articles appeared as a regular feature of Tropic Magazine.

While in Miami, Gifford became acquainted with other scientists and agriculturists of the day, including David Fairchild from the USDA's Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction . When USDA administrators threatened to close down Fairchild's Plant Introduction Garden in Miami, Dr. John Gifford and others protested by sending telegrams to Congress and organizing a committee of citizens to take over the garden in case the Government abandoned it. The government backed away.

Dr. Gifford is remembered, in part, for his agricultural experimentation projects, particularly the introduction of the Melaleuca tree. In the hundred or so years since its introduction to South Florida, this hearty tree has literally taken over many natural communities , crowding out the area's valued native species. In fact, the eradication of melaleuca and other exotic pest plants has become a primary goal in Everglades restoration.

As an expert on tropical woods and a professor of tropical forestry at the University of Miami, John Clayton Gifford is also remembered for his contributions to the the study of tropical plants. After Gifford's death in 1949, the University named its arboretum after him.

Biography prepared by Gail Clement, Florida International University

Excerpt from Gifford, John C., The Everglades and other essays relating to southern Florida (Kansas City, Mo.: Everglade Land Sales Co., 1911).

"In Southern California the hand of man has produced a highly developed and attractive region with no resources except vim and climate. Obstacles were met on every hand. In Southern Florida we have the resources, but the vim has been lacking. We have been reposing since the Seminole war. It is not laziness. We have been indulging our love of leisure. But it is this grappling with nature which develops the latent forces within the man. The coming age is to be an age of conquest, the conquest of nature, the reclamation of swamp lands and the irrigation of deserts. (p. 102)"


Dr. John C. Gifford inspecting a melaleuca branch, Davie, June 4, 1938.

Photo courtesy of History Miami (formerly Historical Museum of Southern Florida


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