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. 

7 thoughts on “Once Upon A Tree

  1. Kevin, my first thought when reading this post is that you are considering running for office…mayor? It would seem a good thing to consider to save that tree…or city council???
    Anyhew, so glad that you and Joe are safe and dry. Water is a mighty force and you don’t want floating reptiles in your gardens!
    We are finally getting steady rain here in Central VA today…as we had no measurable snow this winter, and are now in a moderate drought. Therefore, around my raised beds, I have every flower bucket out catching precious water for dry times ahead. So glad I spent most of this week applying organic fertilizers, lime, seed, and mulches around my gardens. Today I can just enjoy the rain and wet wild birds at the feeder.
    Aside, could/would you share your experience with Blurb? I may close my blog, yet would like to preserve a number of posts/photos and preserve them in a book.
    Many thanks and keep well and safe. Diane

    • Hi Diane. It’s funny that you mention running for office, because that is the last thing I’d do… but I do like being a squeaky wheel and planting seeds of ideas all over the place. The course was interesting and the city encourages grads to either run for election or volunteer on one of the city’s advisory boards. That’s the route I’m taking — to be on the Historical Preservation Board, and I think that tree kind falls under historic.

      As I said, the storm was a bit intense — but we are very thankful to have stayed dry. By the next day, water levels in our community dropped dramatically. The experience serves as a reminder about climate change and preparedness, especially because we’re living in a time when 1,000-year storms happen once a year.

      As for Blurb, I enjoyed using the program, but it took some getting used to. It’s pretty user friendly and their are options for book sizes and layouts. Customer service was also pretty good. I especially liked that it would let me know if a photo would become too pixelated in the process. I also like that it’s print on demand. I would play with it to see if it fits your needs. I’m not familiar with any other book-making platforms — but I’m sure some have popped up since I fist used blurb. Good luck with your project! It’s a lovely way to make a more permanent keepsake of your writing and photos.

      • Hello Kevin,
        Just an FYI for you and any bloggers who wish to print their blogs…Blurb “no longer slurps blogs into books” so I searched the internet and found blog2print.com and they did a fine job printing my posts from 2011 to present. Since I am thinking of retiring my blog, I wanted a physical copy of my work/photos over time. This site supports many platforms and print books up to 440 pages. My blog made two volumes, and I am happy, albeit costly. I had phone support for the first book, and the second followed quickly. They have been in business for a long time, and although a leap of faith, all came out well.
        Hope that you both are still fine and safe. Diane

  2. I’m so glad you included an update on your home’s safety in light of the flooding. You are certainly fortunate, as you mention, too, of course. I don’t actually know if they’re claiming our California flooding to be aged as dramatically as “1,000 year storm,” but we’ve seen rain like I’ve never previously experienced.

    As for your wonderful tree! I do hope the city officials will recognize its beauty and age, and despite the demands of development, find a way to protect it. Your photos are just wonderful in that I can see the scale of its immensity, and it just feels like it has earned a permanent place in the heart of Floridians, yes, but maybe all of us. I do mourn when trees, even lesser ones, are removed. Please do update as you learn more.

    And your government classes/education needs its own post, Kevin! Good for you!!

    • Hi Debra… Thank you for the encouragement. Yes… the 1,000-year storm or the 500-year storm… whatever description we give these things, there’s no denying that these weather events are happening more frequently than 1000, 500, or even 100 years. Heck, more frequently than a month is some cases.

      The government class was interesting — and maybe more cities should try it. I first applied for the class in 2019 for the spring 2020 session — and then Covid happened. The class was canceled for years — and as someone who has avoided most inside events since then, it was probably the most rebellious thing I had done in a long time. I remained masked — and I enjoyed learning and interacting with neighbors.

      If residents decide to run for office, the city likes for them to take the class. They also encourage grads to volunteer for city advisory boards. I signed up for three: Art & Cultural, Beautification, and Historic Preservation — which is the one I’d really like. I think that tree could be a project for that group.

      I’ll keep you posted.

      • I’ve never heard of a program like you describe, and really, more and more of us should be encouraged to find education related to civic engagement. We’ve lost a lot of what was once intuitive. I am impressed with your efforts, Kevin. It isn’t easy to carve out the time, and as you mention, “mingling” with others still feels a little odd to me, although we do have to get back to living freely! Do keep us posted. 😉

  3. I hope the tree still gets another 40, 80, 100 years before people come back eyeing the property. Glad to hear you stayed dry in the storm, that’s a good sign for the next 1,000 years!

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