Once Upon A Tree

Rome has its Forum and Colosseum; Athens, its Acropolis; and Egypt, its Pyramids. Oakland Park, FL, on the other hand, has its tree.

In a place where history is relatively recent — unless one considers the discoveries of native settlements that have been buried by centuries of swampy muck and development — to have something called the city’s oldest tree is a pretty big deal. That was my thought, at least, when I first heard of the tree while attending Oakland Park’s Local Government Academy, a 10-week course that educated about 15 students on, well, local government.

During one of the classes, a speaker mentioned the city’s oldest tree, growing in Greenleaf Park, a property adjacent to the Ethel M. Gordon Public Library. Huh? In the ten years I’ve lived here, I’ve never noticed the tree. I mean, I’ve seen it — but I had no idea that many consider it “the oldest.” There’s no plaque or marker of any kind. It’s just a tree — a very, very large tree.

Apparently, once upon a time (no one knows exactly when), someone or something (no one knows who or what) planted a sapling or dropped a seed.

The tree is Ficus microcarpa nitida. If that sounds like a mouthful, consider the common names: Chinese banyan, Malayan banyan, Indian laurel, and curtain fig — to name but a few. As those common names imply, the tree is native to China and tropical Asia, down to Australia.

At some point in time, the species made its way to South Florida, where cities lined streets with this rapid growth, broad canopy tree — only to learn that it’s an aggressive grower. It needs regular trimming and its roots can easily lift up sidewalks and foundations.

In its tropical American life, a Ficus nitida sprouted on a lot in Oakland Park — in a space large enough for it to grow undisturbed. In archival photos, taken before the city library was built in 1958, the tree is clearly visible.

Courtesy of Oakland Park Historical Society Photo Collection

In the years since the library’s opening, the city has grown — as has the tree. Currently, it measures approximately 40’ tall x 80’ wide.

Aerial roots have helped to expand the diameter of the trunk to approximately 8’, while…

… at ground level, these same roots look like dinosaur feet.

Its trunk is a who’s who through the decades of the area’s lovebirds…

… and angst-filled youth…

… while its crevices provide hiding places for wildlife, tillandsia, and mosses.

The canopy is a welcome relief from the South Florida sun, especially for the young families enjoying the nearby playground.

This is the time in our tall tree tale to wrap everything up in a happy ending, but in this case, it’s going to be a cliffhanger. With city growth comes expansion, and this area of Oakland Park is scheduled for redevelopment.

A new city hall is planned across Dixie Highway from the existing one, which is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a massive mixed-use, multi-story complex adjacent to the train tracks and a new train station. The Ethel M. Gordon Public Library is on the same property and will be moved to a new facility somewhere else in the city.

Although several city officials have assured me that every effort will be made to preserve the tree, no one is sure what that will be, since the tree is so massive.

For now — and for some time to come, Ficus nitida’s happily ever after is safe. Construction hasn’t even begun on the new City Hall or the new Library, which means demolition of the existing buildings isn’t even close.

To be continued at some point in the future…


The city where Joe and I live, Oakland Park, is center stage in this post. If you’re unfamiliar with its location, it’s in Broward County, Florida — part of the collection of cities that make up the Fort Lauderdale metro area. 

If you’ve seen the news recently, you may have heard about the 1,000-year weather event that inundated the region with 26″ of rain — give or take an inch, depending on your exact location. We set a Florida record for the most rain in a 24-hour period… so, yay, for us. 

All kidding aside, it was an intense day and (especially) night. Despite street flooding that rose about 2/3 of the way up our front lawn and canal flooding that came up 12″ over the seawall in the backyard, our house stayed dry. Other neighborhoods, however, remained underwater for days — and gas stations are only now returning to normal because flooding knocked out fuel terminals at Port Everglades. 

Needless to say, Joe and I are incredibly thankful that we’re safe, that the house remained dry, and that so many people reached out to us. Thank you all for that. 

Wrapping Up For Winter

This is what a cold front – a real cold front – looks like in South Florida. This may not be a Buffalo, NY-worthy cold front and it certainly can’t compare to the wickedness of the weather in California or Alabama, but by South Florida standards, this weekend’s weather was cold. This sort of cold – the kind that comes with wind chills and falling iguana warnings – isn’t very fun.

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A Coconut Apple A Day . . .

I’m not saying I know everything about coconut palms and coconuts, but I do feel I have a decent working knowledge. This all comes courtesy of being with Joe, a palm enthusiast, for 35 years and gardening with him in South Florida for 8 of those years. Imagine my surprise when I was on a late-night, channel-surfing expedition and discovered “Les Stroud’s Wild Harvest” on my local PBS station and something entirely new about coconuts — at least to Joe and me.

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Does Spring Fever Exist In South Florida?

As I write this, I’m sitting on the patio by the pool, enjoying one of the last cold fronts to reach all the way down the Florida peninsula. The temperature is hovering around 80 degrees and there’s a coolness on the breeze.

It’s delightful! It’s the most perfect spring day in May — make that the most perfect northern spring day in May, because this is March in Florida.

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Sunflowers For Ukraine

This isn’t the post I wanted to share today, the one I was hoping would end my writing slump — but the situation in Ukraine is occupying all of my thoughts and a frivolous post is impossible now.

Like many of you, I am deeply saddened and angered by the Russian invasion, an action that has destabilized a world that still hasn’t shaken off COVID. Quite frankly, hasn’t the world had enough? Haven’t we all had enough?

On Facebook, I’m in a group called “View From My Window.” In the past two weeks, so many people from Kyiv and other areas of Ukraine have shared their city and country window views. What they’ve shared is beautiful. What they’ve shared are their lives.

Equally touching are the comments from around the world, all expressing concern and hope and prayers.  The photos, though, have made the war more personal because these are real people with real lives. Now, I am consumed with thoughts of strangers who shared their photos — ordinary people who are, in so many ways, just like me, just like you, just like us.

In my opinion, the vast majority of people in the world want nothing more than to wake up peacefully, go to work, bring their children to playgrounds, walk their dogs, plant something on their terraces or in their gardens, enjoy a delicious meal, laugh with family and friends, watch some television, and go to sleep with thoughts that tomorrow they will be able to do the same.

They do not want war. No one wants war.

Yet, here we are. Again. It seems the decision to go to war is always made behind closed doors by people — usually men — who have nothing to lose. Those with everything to lose are the innocents in harm’s way.

It’s as journalist Walter Cronkite once said, “War itself is, of course, a form of madness. It’s hardly a civilized pursuit. It’s amazing how we spend so much time inventing devices to kill each other and so little time working on how to achieve peace.”

I’m not sure how to end this post, other than to say I recently learned the sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine — and so I have filled this post with some of my sunflower photos. Some were spotted in a field, and others I’ve grown over the years.

I’ve read the sunflower was given this distinction in Ukraine because it represents power, strength, and warmth — three traits that can just as easily describe a people. Each sunflower here is a small token of support for the gardeners and all people of Ukraine.

Please, stay safe. The whole world is with you.