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Michael A. Spencer Collection on Henry Nehrling

Identifier: SC-069

Scope and Contents

Series I: Nehrling Materials, 1894-1929 holds materials that once belonged to Nehrling and were collected by Michael A. Spencer. Most of the collection consists of four notebooks kept by Nehrling that documents his travels in Florida and his work on his garden. Correspondence with Mr. and Mrs. Codwise of Bonita Springs includes comments about plants and most of the photographs show plants in Nehrling's garden in Gotha. A check, signed by Nehrling, an advertisement for a book, news clippings and plant labels from Nehrling's garden complete this series.

Series II: Spencer Materials, 1959-1997 holds correspondence and news clippings about Nehrling and the attempts to save Palm Cottage Gardens.


  • Created: 1894-1997


Conditions Governing Access

The entire collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished records are protected by copyright. Permission to publish quote or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Biographical or Historical Information

Henry Nehrling, an ornithologist and horticulturist, was born on 9 May 1853 in Herman, Wisconsin, to Carl Nehrling and Elizabeth Ruge. He completed a teacher education program at the Lutheran Teacher's Seminary in Addison, Illinois and taught in Illinois, Missouri and Texas. Nehrling married Sophia Schoff of Oak Park, Illinois on July 20, 1874 and they had nine children. Their eldest son, Walter, became a professor of Botany at Illinois State Normal School. Henry Nehrling was an original member of the American Ornithologist's Union formed in 1883.

While living in Houston, Texas from 1879, Nehrling first had the opportunity of growing tropical plants. In 1887, he was appointed deputy collector and inspector of customs at the port of Milwaukee where he remained for three years until he accepted the post of Custodian of the Public Museum in Milwaukee where he collected plant specimens for their greenhouse. He purchased land in Gotha, Florida in 1884, but did not visit the property until 1886. Slowly, as his finances allowed, he developed the property into an ornamental garden. At the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Nehrling had the opportunity of examining many tropical plants and trees and became fascinated with the fancy-leafed caladium. Through a South American horticulturist, Adolph Lietz, Nehrling acquired hundreds of Brazilian caladium specimens. These were first housed in his greenhouse in Milwaukee but were later moved to Gotha. Nehrling created new hybrid caladiums which he named in honor of his wife, the "Mrs. Sophie Nehrling," his son the "Arno Nehrling" and his daughter-in-law "Mrs. Arno Nehrling."

Nehrling lost his position with the Public Museum of Milwaukee and permanently settled in Gotha in 1904. where he also began to experiment with the colorful annual flowering Amaryllis. He grew, hybridized, and popularized many unusual and exotic plants for the general public. Caladiums, palms, bamboo, and amaryllis were all introduced to the United States by way of his Palm Cottage Gardens. Nehrling's wife, Sophia, died on November 11, 1911, and on June 7, 1916 he married Betty P. Mitchell. A freeze in 1917 killed many of his most valuable plants; to avoid a recurrence, he purchased property in Naples, Florida where he could safely grow tropical species. He settled there in 1922 and by 1925, Nehrling had over three thousand species of tropical plants. Financial problems forced him to return to Gotha where he died on November 22, 1929 and was buried in Woodlawn cemetery near Gotha. His garden in Naples was preserved as the Jungle Larry’s Caribbean Gardens and some efforts have been made to preserve his Palm Cottage Gardens in Gotha.

Nehrling always wrote about his interests; he wrote articles on birds for the Nuttall Ornithological Club in Texas. In 1922, he began writing columns for The American Eagle, a weekly newspaper published in Estero, Florida. His first book Orchids in South Florida was published in 1890 and was followed a year later by Dis Nordamericanish Vogelwelt (North American Songbirds). Two volumes of Our Native Birds of Song and Beauty were published in 1893 and 1896 respectively. His next work, Die Amaryllis oder Rittersterne (Hippeastrum) (The Amaryllis), was published in 1908.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 Box)


Henry Nehrling was a horticulturist famous for his gardens in Gotha and Naples, Florida. These materials were collected by Michael Spencer because of his interest in botany and his links with Central Florida. Of particular interest are Nehrling's notebooks, correspondence, photographs and plant labels. The collection also contains a few materials, which belonged to Mr. Spencer concerning the attempts to save Nehrling's Palm Cottage Gardens.

Method of Acquisition

Michael A. Spencer donated these materials to the University of Central Florida Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Department in 2006 (CFM2006_08a).

Related Materials

Parts of Henry Nehrling's Papers are held in this repository. Other repositories owning Henry Nehrling materials include Rollins College, Winter Park Public Library, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Library, Orange County Regional History Center and the Koreshan Collection. Nehrling wrote several books that may be found by searching the library catalog. Mr. Spencer collected materials on other botanists and his collections on Julian Nally and Theodore Mead are also held in this repository. The University of Central Florida Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Department purchased Henry Nehrling papers (1886-1970) from the Mickler estate in 1999. The finding aid can be found here.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Judith Beale; finding aid prepared by Judith Beale. Photographs were sleeved with polyester. Some metal wires removed from the plant labels to avoid excessive damage; a few wires were left as examples of how they were used.
Michael A. Spencer Collection on Henry Nehrling
Judith Beale
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the UCF Special Collections Repository

Special Collections & University Archives
University of Central Florida Libraries
P.O. Box 162666
Orlando Florida 32816-2666 US
(407) 823-2576