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.
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.