Summer Guide 2017: These are a few of my favorite trees

These trees have it made in the shade.

click to enlarge gumbo limbo in Sarasota - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
gumbo limbo in Sarasota

If you spend enough time wandering through Florida, you realize we have some kick-ass trees. When we started brainstorming for this year's summer guide, the idea of our favorite trees seemed like a nifty sidebar — until I started asking my friends and I started getting unsolicited emails about their favorite trees.

It seems no article about our favorite trees is complete without a photo of the oak in Safety Harbor, Charles in Roser Park, a respectful RIP to the Senator in Sanford... the list goes on and on. Seriously, this is not what I expected when we started talking about trees. Since we can't list them all, we give you a few of our favorite trees.

click to enlarge The tree — one of several — at Chinsegut in Brooksville. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
The tree — one of several — at Chinsegut in Brooksville.

Up in Brooksville at Chinsegut, where slaves used to farm sugarcane, you can find this live oak, with a ladder up to a small wooden balcony. Look out over it and you'll see... more trees. Acres and acres of trees: A few wild orange trees, more oaks, bamboo stalks higher than most of the trees there.

click to enlarge You can climb to the top of the trunk, where there's a small balcony. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
You can climb to the top of the trunk, where there's a small balcony.

Near this tree another towering oak stands: The Altar Oak. Look closely at it and you'll see rods running from branch to branch; go around the back and you'll see cement and metal reinforcements keeping this tree upright. That's a serious commitment to a tree.

Chinsegut's Altar Oak gets by with a little help from tree engineers. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
Chinsegut's Altar Oak gets by with a little help from tree engineers.

The tree you won't easily find at Chinsegut is the Lenin Oak. The Southern Blog — and others — refer to it as "the communist tree." See, Margaret Dreier and her husband, Raymond Robins, had a deep sympathy for labor reforms (including child labor laws) and watched the 1917 Bolshevik revolution with keen interest. Robins met Nikolai Lenin when he led the Revolution, and spoke with him more than once. In 1918, Dreier planted an acorn in Lenin's honor. A plaque in front of the sapling read: "PLANTED BY MARGARET DREIER ROBINS, IST OF MAY 1918 – IN MEMORY OF THE LEADER OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, NIKOLAI LENIN. ‘THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN SUFFERETH VIOLENCE. AND THE VIOLENT TAKE IT BY FORCE.'”

All was fine until a red scare gripped America and the "communist tree" caused an uproar at local and federal levels. The plaque was thrown into nearby Lake Lindsey. The oak may very well remain; finding it, however, proves problematic.

click to enlarge Mangrove tunnels close in over you in Chokoloskee - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
Mangrove tunnels close in over you in Chokoloskee

Down in the Everglades City/Chokoloskee area, I can't name one favorite tree — but the mangroves grow taller there than they do up here, and if you take an airboat ride (I'm partial to Totch's Island Tours) you'll find yourself zooming through tunnels created by these massive trees, with prop roots that tower above you. It feels a little like being in the realm of the Goblin King.

Closer to home, this shell tree marks the southwestern tip of Caladesi Island, which became a misnomer after storms filled in the pass between Caladesi and north Clearwater Beach.

Shell tree at Caladesi Island - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
Shell tree at Caladesi Island

Some shells have an inscription, making it a highly personalized tree and — I'm certain — a favorite of many who have left their mark. Most, though, have no such markings.

click to enlarge Summer Guide 2017: These are a few of my favorite trees
Cathy Salustri
While beach erosion bothers those with houses on the sand and real estate developers, if you have no financial stake in seeing the beach remain unaltered, you can see the beauty of erosion. This tree, facing west from Fort DeSoto, showed the world its roots as it went from living thing to standing driftwood.

Up near Fernandina, Bosque Bellow Cemetery has lots of old headstones — and, as cool as they are, the trees are even cooler.

The trees at Bosquebellow Cemetery in Fernandina each tell a story. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
The trees at Bosquebellow Cemetery in Fernandina each tell a story.

Here's a closeup.

click to enlarge This gumbo limbo tree the DeSoto National Memorial in Sarasota fronts Tampa Bay as it meets the Gulf. You can see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge from this vantage point; this tree may also be largest gumbo limbo north of South Florida. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
This gumbo limbo tree the DeSoto National Memorial in Sarasota fronts Tampa Bay as it meets the Gulf. You can see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge from this vantage point; this tree may also be largest gumbo limbo north of South Florida.

This gumbo limbo tree at the DeSoto National Memorial in Sarasota fronts Tampa Bay as it meets the Gulf. You can see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge from this vantagepoint; this tree may also be largest gumbo limbo tree north of South Florida.

click to enlarge gumbo limbo in Sarasota - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
gumbo limbo in Sarasota

As the sign says, though, it won't be around forever. It has a disease that eats the tree from the inside out, park rangers say. In addition, they suspect it's at the end of its lifespan. In 2014 and 2015, the community donated thousands of dollars to help save the tree; the monies went for installing a steel cable and injecting beneficial fungi to combat the disease.

click to enlarge Charles in Roser Park - David Warner
David Warner
Charles in Roser Park

And, of course, there's Charles. Named after Charles Roser, this oak tree lives in — you guessed it — Roser Park. It arches out over Booker Creek, and all the locals (including CL's editor-in-chief, David W.) know him by name.

click to enlarge Charles in Roser Park - David Warner
David Warner
Charles in Roser Park

The Senator, which Sanford locals (and the Orlando Sentinelclaimed was the oldest bald cypress tree in the world, fell in 2012. A meth head set the 3500-year-old tree ablaze; she told police it was not intentional; she lit a fire inside the tree to see the meth she was trying to light. She's in prison now, which is OK by us.

After all, we do love our trees.

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
Scroll to read more Travel & Leisure articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]