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. 

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Bloomin’ Update 64: Harvest Days, SoFlo Style

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget it’s autumn. That has become my annual thought the longer I live and garden in South Florida. I know many plants, even down here, have a season, but it’s not until I see the national weather forecast for the Dakotas, my friend’s pictures of her New England view of painted leaves, and other garden blogs filled with photos of gardens in seasonal transition that I truly realize that the times, they are a-changin’.

It’s at this moment, in a land where most feel there are only two seasons — hot and hotter — that I become more aware of the later sunrises and earlier sunsets, and of the shimmering, golden hue of the sunlight in the late, late afternoon. We were even given a small tease as a weak “cold” front made its down the Florida peninsula for a day, delivering — at the very least — a drop in humidity. Other than that, though, autumn here is pretty much summer.

On the other hand, the combination of these subtle changes and a pandemic that’s kept me firmly planted at home has given me a reason to not only harvest bananas (above), but to also collect seeds and start new plants.

Pride of Barbados

This small flowering tree or tall flowering shrub began as a gift from friends. As hard as I prune it to keep it short, it seems happiest when it’s allowed to fully grow upward. Then, at the top of its stems, clusters of orchid-like flowers bloom. In turn, these are followed by dangling seed pods, which I quickly collect before they pop open so I don’t have a forest of Pride.

One pod I let dry on my potting bench. When I cut it open, I was surprised to find the seeds in an alternating pattern. I’m not sure if this is typical or a quirk of this particular pod. Either way, I was still impressed that nature could produce something so perfect and symmetrical.

I planted some of the seeds. Within days, they sprouted and now I have a pot of seedlings that need to be potted up. I’m still not sure if I’ll plant these when they’re a little older or if I’ll give them away.

Mexican Cotton Plant

One of my favorite plants that I’ve grown is Mexican Cotton Plant. I have mine in a pot, and I’ve always been able to keep it pruned to encourage branching and stronger growth. This year, though, something happened. After flowering, it produced the buds that would eventually open to reveal cotton. That’s when I noticed the leaves dying. My hope was for the plant to live long enough for these buds to mature, but that wasn’t the case.

I harvested the buds and let them dry. In a matter of days, they popped open, revealing the cotton balls. I pulled out the cotton, each piece of fluff covering a seed. These are now planted and I’m waiting for them to sprout.

White African Iris

Last year, a friend gave me some seed pods from his White African Iris. I dried the pod, removed the seeds, and planted them. They are now flowering for the first time.

Crinum Lily

One of my favorite plants is the Crinum Lily. Large and tropical, the plant is related to amaryllis rather than lilies — and it can easily fill a bed with its sword-like leaves. The treat is when they send up a flower spike (above). Within a day, the flower cluster opens even more (below).

They also spread. One way is for the mother bulb to produce pups. These can be separated and then planted. I tend to do this on a regular basis to keep the mother plants looking clean and neat.

The other method is fascinating. When a flower is pollinated, a bulblet forms on the flower spike. As it matures, its weight will either help bend the flower stalk to the ground or it will simply fall off. Recently, while cleaning the Crinums, separating pups, and weeding, I found a bulblet that had fallen to the ground, where it had germinated. At first glance, I thought the withered bulblet was a stone.

King Palm

Normally, when  palm trees produce their inflorescence, Joe cuts them off to prevent becoming overrun with sprouting palm trees everywhere — except this time. I was interested in harvesting seeds from the King Palm, so we let the hull-like structure (peduncular bract) that contains the small flowers remain attached to the tree. The photo above is of another peduncular bract that we cut in half to see how tightly packed the inflorescence is.

After a few weeks, the bract popped open, revealing its multi-branched inflorescence.

In time, the inflorescence branches spread and bees are drawn to the hundreds of small beige flowers.

Back To The Bananas

I realize bananas may not be everyone’s idea of a fall fruit. That title usually belongs to apples and pears and pumpkins. This year, though, the banana plant happened to produce just in time for a fall harvest — and there were lots of bananas. I added them to cereal, shared them with neighbors, froze some for future use, and tried my hand at banana bread for the first time.

My neighbor’s recipe called for loaf pans, but all I had was a Bundt pan — so that’s what it had to be. Not as tasty as my neighbor’s — but all in all, a delicious way to celebrate the season in a SoFlo way.

Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon Giveaway

I wanted to take a few moments to thank everyone who participated in the recent giveaway of Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon, by Linda Jane Holden, and to congratulate Carol H. for being the lucky winner!

The South Floridian Who Planted A Rose And Grew An English Garden, Part 2

In the overnight hours before landscape designer Victor Lazzari opened his English-style garden to members of a local garden club, a cold front made its way down the entire length of the Florida peninsula. Wind and light rain arrived in the darkness, but by morning, a cool breeze had pushed away any lingering clouds, unveiling a brilliantly blue sky. The typical South Florida humidity was yesterday’s memory.

Continue reading

The South Floridian Who Planted A Rose And Grew An English Garden, Part 1

It’s interesting to watch Victor Lazzari in his South Florida garden. At 6’1” and 290 lbs. of muscle and tattoos, he’s certainly a looming presence. It’s also where he happens to be the most comfortable, walking along the garden’s hidden paths, gently cupping roses in hands that are just as capable of lifting 350 lbs. at the gym, and inhaling each bloom’s sweet or subtle scent.

Most strikingly, though, Lazzari’s garden is done in the English style. Yes, an English garden is growing in South Florida.

Continue reading

The Great Hydrangea Experiment

I long for hydrangea days.

As much as I love living and gardening in South Florida, I can’t help but deeply miss the hydrangeas in my New York garden. I loved photographing them from their first green buds in spring to the fullness of color during their bloom time to the their faded glory in fall to winter’s dried-brown clusters.

Continue reading

Gardening In The Cone Of Anxiety

This isn’t the post I had planned to write. That original post has to wait for another day because of Hurricane Dorian — and before I get into the meat of this post, please, understand that I am in no way making light of the situation in the Bahamas. That is tragic. That is devastating — and I’m not even sure those words are strong enough to fully capture what the people there have experienced and are continuing to face each day.

Continue reading