The Naples Botanical Garden has gone prehistoric. Through July 5, the normally serene and tranquil garden has been taken over by life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, dating as far back as the Triassic period, turning our little slice of paradise into a scene straight out of Jurassic Park.
The indomitable Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“Unearthed: Dinosaurs in the Garden” is a truly unique experience, offering a look into prehistory that’s not just fun and engaging for garden visitors of all ages, but is also educational, with the garden strategically placing and planting era-appropriate plants like cycads and ferns with Triassic species, and flowering plants with Cretaceous period species.
“This is our first [botanical] garden,” said Robby Gilbert, director of displays for Billings Productions, the company behind the over-sized exhibition, on the installation of the dinosaurs. “The subtropical zone of Naples is just perfect for this type of exhibit – all the palm trees, the balmy weather; it really is like stepping back in time.”
Edmontonia, on display in the Florida Garden.
The exhibition’s dinosaurs span the Mesozoic era, with species from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, and are taking up residence in the Kathleen and Scott Kapnick Brazilian Garden and the Karen and Robert Scott Florida Garden. Fully animatronic, each dinosaur moves—from eight to 15 movements per—and is accompanied by a sound system, so this exhibition is anything but passive. As guests arrive, the first behemoth they will encounter is a sub-adult Brachiosaurus, a long-necked herbivore made famous in Jurassic Park—remember the sneezing dinosaur?
A prairie iris in bloom in the Florida Garden amid a lumbering Styracosaurus
“Then it quickly goes a little more fierce with the Dilophosaurus,” Gilbert adds. A mother/baby combination, this Jurassic period predator, another star of the film (the spitting one that attached “Newman”), differs a bit from its silver screen spotlight. “Those animals were actually quite large. They were made smaller in the movie, while the Velociraptor was made larger so they would not compete with each other. So we actually have a full-sized Dilo, the mama, which is a great animal. And even though there was no evidence that they spit poison or had a frill, ours sprays water so its fun in the summer.”
As touched on before, the exhibition goes beyond the magnanimous, bringing in an educational component about the evolution of life on our planet, spanning roughly 250 to 200 million years ago (Mya). The exhibitions’ Triassic period star, the Coelophysis, a primitive bipedal carnivorous dinosaur that may have hunted in packs, is on display side by side with some rather interesting flora in the Brazilian Garden. “The plant life alongside the [Coelophysis] are cycads, ferns, non-flowering plants, simulating the known plant life from that timeframe,” said Gilbert. The exhibition signage makes note of this, showcasing descendants of species of plant life that first appeared, and munched on, by these walking giants.
As garden visitors transition to the Cretaceous period in the Florida Garden, guests stumble upon the true star of the exhibition, a 40-foot life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex in hot pursuit of the well-armored Edmontonia, recreating a hunting scene that played out some 75 Mya. While this predator/prey scene plays out in impressive fashion, and herbivores Styracosaurus (cousin of the Triceratops) and Parasaurolophus graze in the foreground, there are a few ecological, biological and artistic indicators taking place.
“All these animals have a lot of color to them because we knew the garden would be blooming,” said Gilbert, adding, that this is not just for aesthetic purposes. “We know that flowering plants did not come into existence until the Cretaceous, so that story is told with the animals in the Florida garden. The introduction of flowering plants quite possibly led to the need and necessity for color vision in dinosaurs and animals all around. So the theory is you would start to see more color in the dinosaurs themselves.” Though there is no telling what dinosaur skin color looked like based on fossil record, paleontologists agree that as the world began to change, with flowering plants (angiosperms) beginning to dominate the plant kingdom, replacing conifers as the dominant trees around 100-60 Mya, animal life changed with it.
Cadi with her Stegosaurus.
As for some artistic license, the Florida Garden is also hosting a Stegosaurus sporting a special paintjob. Open to children 12 and under, the Naples Botanical Garden’s Paint-the-Dino Coloring Contest had hundreds of kids from the Greater Naples area submitting their own colorful rendition of the plant-eater, the winner of which would have their color-palette put to dino. The winner, nine-year-old Cadi, chose a green-yellow for the body; pink, red and purple for the back plates; and a light blue for the tail spikes, making this the perfect addition to the in-bloom Florida Garden. So, while the rest of the world scrambles to theaters this June for the long-awaited film, Jurassic World, Neapolitans can get a taste of the real thing right in our own backyard—and we can assure you, these dinos will not rampage through the park.
- Photo Op: Also on the docket, the Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children’s Garden will give visitors a chance to get up-close and personal with a T-Rex at the Tyrannosaurus Rex photo opportunity, while future paleontologists can dig into the past at the fossil dig pit. Both will be open for the duration of the exhibition.
- “Unearthed: Dinosaurs in the Garden” will be on display from March 14 through July 5. For more information, call 239-643-7275 or visit naplesgarden.org.