A tree grows on Winterberry: Marco Island Beautification Committee plants Jamaican dogwoods for Tree City designation

— “Ya got enough guys?” someone asked Public Works Director Tim Pinter as the crew assembled for the ceremonial tree planting Friday at Calusa Park on Winterberry Drive.

A cast of thousands – well, a dozen or so – gathered to put two Jamaican dogwood trees into the ground, in celebration of Florida’s Arbor Day, along with eight shiny official shovels, heavy equipment, and the laborers who did the actual work of planting the trees.

On the kind of day that makes people want to spend their winters on the island, Marco Island City Council Chairman Jerry Gibson read a proclamation commemorating the event, and Beautification Committee Chairman Barbara Murphy took the group through a talk on the history and significance of Arbor Day, and the value of trees to Marco.

Arbor Day was first celebrated in 1872 in Nebraska, Murphy told the folks standing in a circle, and National Arbor Day was proclaimed in 1970 by President Richard Nixon. The national celebration takes place on the last Friday in April, but in Florida, Arbor Day is the third Friday in January, when people in Nebraska might be challenged to push a shovel into the frozen ground.

“Recognizing Arbor Day with a tree planting in one of the requirements of the ‘Tree City USA’ honor,” said Murphy, and Marco Island is one of those, among 160 municipalities in Florida and over 3400 across the country.

She thanked Chris Burt of the Island Garden Center for donating the two 12-foot-plus trees, and Albert Benarroch of Affordable Landscape Service for providing the actual installation. The two Jamaican dogwoods blossom in the spring with pick and white flowers, attract bees (and wasps), and serve as a larval host plant for several butterfly species, she said.

They can grow up to 35-50 feet tall, and are known in the Caribbean as “little fish killer,” with the sap used to paralyze fish as an easy way to catch them, but the toxin is harmless to warm-blooded species, said Murphy.

Pinter said the city will not be doing a great deal in the area of tree planting this year.

“We don’t have much of a tree budget,” he said, “mostly just replacing dead trees – maybe 20 or so.” Overall, though, the city has thousands of trees under its care, he guesstimated. “They’re in the parks, the medians, the right of ways – almost all the palms in the swales are ours.”

As might be expected, the city’s proclamation was heavy on “whereases.” “Whereas, trees reduce erosion, increase property values … and provide a source of joy and spiritual renewal,” read Gibson, the city was happy to proclaim Arbor Day – even if we do have to do it again in April for the national holiday.

Councilman Joe Batte had the snazziest ride to the tree planting. He drove up in his shiny black 1948 Buick Roadmaster, purchased new by his father, and almost entirely restored to original condition. The linear Calusa Park extends along Winterberry from Heathwood to Sandhill.

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