The Royal Palm Nurseries, owned by the Reasoner family, is the oldest family-owned nursery in all of Florida.
It was started by Pliny Reasoner, but it was not long before the whole family was involved with the business. It took only a few years for the nursery to take off and become one of the most notable tropical nurseries in all of America.
In 1881, Pliny Reasoner moved from his hometown of Illinois down to Manatee County at the age of 17. At that time Manatee County was just a few small communities located on the Manatee River.
Pliny and his younger brother Egbert previously established a nursery on their father’s farm in Illinois, which sparked Pliny’s desire to experiment with what would grow in the Florida warm environment.
Pliny originally bought 40 acres of land on Orange Ridge and began the long and back-breaking work of clearing the land by hand. Once he was finally done, he planted orange trees. Eventually, he bought an additional 160 acres of land in Oneco. After he cleared this land he decided to experiment with a variety of different seeds to see what would grow in the warm climate. In doing so, he introduced a lot of different plant species to Florida.
In 1884, Pliny decided to make a catalog of products. Catalogs were relatively unique at that time so it brought a lot of attention to the nursery. Right when this was going on, Pliny’s brother Egbert came to Florida to help with the business. They found royal palms at the southern tip of Florida and they became the first nursery to offer them for sale.
However, in 1886, there was a freeze. This was one of the worst freezes in Florida history because it snowed, lakes froze over, and even part of the Manatee River froze over. The Reasoner nursery fared well in comparison to the more northern nurseries, which were much worse off. Their sales actually increased after the freeze because there was such a high demand for them.
In 1887, the rest of the Reasoner family moved south because at that time the nursery was well established. However, Pliny died of yellow fever on September 17, 1888, at the age of 25. He left the farm in the hands of Egbert, who was 19 at the time.
The family continued to innovate the nursery industry by introducing new budding and grafting techniques, and they kept expanding the business and becoming more acclaimed nationwide. The Royal Palms Nursery became the most famous tropical nursery in America. They sold many fruit plants, like oranges, lemons, mangoes, tamarinds, pineapples and the world’s first pink grapefruit starting in 1906. They also sold ornamentals and exotic plants such as palms, acacias and crotons throughout Florida.
The Reasoner brothers will always be remembered in history because, in 1980, Egbert was inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame, and Pliny was inducted the following year. They were the first two inductees to represent the Horticulture field.
The Reasoner Family business is continuing to run smoothly today, and they are still well known for their wide selection of tropical plants, along with landscape design and installation, fertilization, pest control, and even an online retail nursery.