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Amelia Islander

Treasured Trees

Aug 09, 2016 02:39PM
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In 2013, Amelia Island resident Lyn Pannone watched in dismay while ancient live oak trees were being destroyed at the corner of A1A and Fletcher Avenue in order to expand and improve the Flash Foods property. She discovered there was loophole in a city ordinance that stated as long as there was an existing building on any property, owners could do as they wished without getting a permit to cut down trees. Pannone attempted to block the tree destruction by sending a registered letter, upon the advice of Nassau County’s Growth Management Coordinator Peter King, directly to the president of Flash Foods asking him to rethink their plan. That was on Friday afternoon, January 18. Her attempt was in vain. On Monday, January 21, the trees were taken down, and Amelia Islanders grieved their loss. Angry and appalled, and with her heart breaking, Pannone stood on the job site and watched the trees being destroyed, one by one. That day, she made a decision to do whatever she could to get the city ordinance changed. She immediately organized several community meetings, eventually taking her cause to the Planning and Zoning Board. “We had so many people come to our meetings, along with the public hearing, to change this ordinance,” says Pannone. “Nearly everyone on the island was behind our cause, and we got great media coverage. The law was passed unanimously, and that’s when we decided to form our current group, the Amelia Tree Conservancy, in order to continue to advocate for our trees, one of our most precious resources.” Three years later, the Amelia Tree Conservancy has become a diverse coalition of Amelia Island citizens dedicated to preserving the island’s maritime forest canopy. The ATC is a partner and committee of the North Florida Land Trust, a 501c(3) organization committed to protecting and preserving the natural and cultural resources of North Florida. Today, what remains of the southeast maritime forest on Amelia Island is part of the barrier island forest that originally extended from southern Virginia to Florida, through the Talbot Islands, and across the northern Gulf Coast. As a result of development, few areas of this maritime forest remain. A barrier island forest develops within close proximity to salt spray, and is characterized by a high canopy of Live Oak and an understory dominated by Saw Palmetto. “The most common canopy trees in our Amelia Island maritime forest include Live Oak, Laurel Oak, Water Oak, Sabal (Cabbage) Palm, Hickory, Southern Magnolia, Red Cedar and several types of Pine,” say Margaret Kirkland, ATC’s Chairperson. “The understory includes Saw Palmetto, Wax Myrtle, American Holly, Yaupon Holly, Dahoon Holly, Sparkleberry, and Beautyberry. All of these trees help mediate our climate because evaporation from trees has a cooling influence. Trees in our maritime forests keep temperatures 20 to 45 degrees cooler during the summer months, and also reduce heat loss during the winter. Proper location of several mature shade trees on residential properties will save $100 to $250 in energy costs annually.” Lauri deGaris is a marine biologist, historian, and owner of Discover This Co., Inc., which provides walking tours and lectures that weave history with Florida’s natural resources. Amelia Island’s trees are a prime focus of her tours. “During the Spanish occupation of Florida, the final resting place for many citizens of Amelia Island was Bosque Bello Cemetery,” says deGaris. “Named for the ‘beautiful woods’ located near Old Town, Bosque Bello Cemetery was established in 1798 and today is still filled with many of those original Live Oak and Red Cedar trees. These trees are silent soldiers standing guard over thousands of residents who called this island home for more than two centuries.” “There are a few remaining old pine trees on the island,” notes deGaris. “Pine was harvested and exported for centuries in Florida. The heart of the pine tree was favored for building homes, schools, churches, and more. Development of the railroad opened up the northern part of the state and fueled a large part of our economy during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of those resting in Bosque Bello Cemetery are buried in caskets made of pine. Pine has also been an important ingredient in medicine. Prior to the 21th century, pine splinters, barks, and needles were used to treat a variety of ailments. These recipes came to the aid of many residents of Amelia Island and the rest of the South.” Treasured Tree Self-Guided Tour of Amelia Island The ATC has developed a self-guided tour of Amelia Island’s Treasured Trees, which allows visitors to experience Amelia Island through the eyes of a tree. For a map of exact locations of specific trees and tree canopies, visit their web site at

Historic Downtown Region Fernandina Beach has received certification as Tree City USA for 12 consecutive years in recognition of its numerous blocks of tree-lined streets. Thirty percent of these trees are Live Oaks. The remainder are a mix of Sabal Palm, Laurel Oak, Bradford Pear, Canary Palm, East Palatka Holly, Crepe Myrtle, and Magnolia. ATC recommends that you take time to walk through the various streets in the downtown Historic District to see its treasured trees, as if you are seeing them for the first time. Kate’s Tree Approximately one hundred years ago, Ash Street was a shell road about to be paved, and it was home to a majestic live oak tree. Katherine Bailey lived across the street from the tree, in the home that is now referred to as the Bailey House. She was extremely upset when she and her husband were not able to convince officials to preserve the tree, so Kate decided to take matters into her own hands. “She spent her days sitting on the veranda of her house, holding a shotgun,” says Bailey Struss, Kate’s grandson. “Anyone who threatened to harm the tree was warned of the consequences! This tree stands today as a testament of one woman’s courage and persistence.”

Fred’s Tree Around the mid-1950s, Winn Dixie moved onto the property that is now occupied by Fred’s Department Store, located at 22 South 8th Street. The move was conducted long before air conditioning was available, so the most popular places to park were in the shade under a magnificent live oak tree located in the store’s parking lot. Herbert McKendree had been hired by Winn Dixie to cut the tree as a preventive measure, because another store in Florida had reported a problem with falling limbs from a pecan tree. A barrage of letters from the local garden clubs went flying out to the Winn Dixie owners, the Davis family, who were living in Jacksonville, telling them to not cut down the tree. After a few days, Mr. Davis told McKendree that they he should not cut down the tree. The Maxwell family later purchased the property, where Fred’s Department Store was built, and had the tree added to the Live Oak Society. Today it is referred to as Fred’s Tree.

15th Street and Broome This spectacular live oak won “Most Beautiful Tree on the Island” in an informal poll of Amelia Tree Conservancy members when choosing trees for their Treasured Tree Trolley Tour. The owners of the property located at the corner of 15th and Broome streets bought their house because they fell in love with this particular tree. They invite the public to view their tree from the street and ask that people honor their request not to step onto their property.

Amelia Island Lighthouse Neighborhood The Lighthouse neighborhood is a typical example of a coastal barrier island environment. Live Oak trees along the marsh take the brunt of the wind and deflect it upwards, reducing wind speeds and protecting the trees and homes farther inland. The deflection of the wind upward also allows any sand or sediment to fall out of the air and create dunes, which also protect the interior of the island. This is why Live Oaks directly along the marsh are generally smaller and have a more bent and scraggly appearance. The Amelia Island Lighthouse in this neighborhood is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Bosque Bello Cemetery Region Bosque Bello’s location appears in the original plat of Old Town in 1811 and was said to have been established by the Spanish in 1798. The old section of the cemetery is filled with large shade trees. The City is currently working on a long range plan for the cemetery, which will include a landscaping plan to perpetuate its beauty. There are over 1,300 trees in the cemetery, totaling nearly 30,000 tree inches. The cemetery’s canopy is dominated by Red Cedar and Oak trees. Hickory, and a variety of Palms make up the remainder of the canopy.

Egans Creek Greenway Egans Creek Greenway was opened for public use in 2000. In 2004, the Florida Department of Transportation completed a project that restored much of the flow of Egans Creek from the north side of Atlantic Avenue to the south with the installation of a new system of flood gates. After over 50 years of minimal tidal flow beneath Atlantic Avenue, the north end of the Greenway again experiences significant tidal changes and flushing action, and salt marsh vegetation is again flourishing. The maritime hammock represented in the Greenway has been described by Florida Natural Areas Inventory consultants as of good to excellent quality with an old-aged canopy.

Fort Clinch State Park Fort Clinch State Park is an excellent place to see both mature maritime hammock and simultaneously visualize how history has influenced the development of the hammock. The Willow Pond Trail runs through two distinct natural communities, beginning in a maritime coastal hammock. Dominant plants are Live Oak, Magnolia, American Holly, Laurel Oak, Paw Paw, Cabbage Palms, Yaupon Holly, and Eastern Red Cedar. The trail drops down into what is known as a depression marsh, where the dominant plants include Willow, Red Maple, Hackberry, Dahoon Holly, and various marsh plants.

Amelia Park Region Designed in the 1990s as a traditional neighborhood development, Amelia Park is a community that values trees and native plantings as a core part of the daily experience for residents and visitors. Homeowners have planted native trees along the streets, gardens, and courtyards. In addition, trees were preserved along lakes and ponds, playground, the town square, and other green spaces and garden districts.

Peters Point Park and the Amelia Trail Peter’s Point, a public beach access with rest rooms, showers, picnic tables and shelters, grills, and free parking, offers not only a beautiful beach but also an excellent example of the maritime forest canopy located adjacent to the shoreline. In addition, a 13-mile round trip off-road hiking and biking trail called the Amelia Trail begins here. Canopy Road Region Nassau County’s Canopy Road Ordinance has protected six corridors on the island and one off the island, including Amelia Island Parkway, Scott Road, Gerbing Road, Buccaneer Trail, Manucy Road, Suarez Bluff Road, and Meadowfield Bluff. The Board of County Commissioners may designate roads or portions of roads as scenic/canopy roads based upon certain criteria, such as historic significance, the existing scenic/canopy, and ecological significance.

American Beach American Beach was founded in 1935 by Abraham Lincoln Lewis and others. The great granddaughter of A. L. Lewis was MaVynee Betsch, a descendant of Zephaniah Kingsley and his slave wife, Anna. She was a memorable force on Amelia Island and a great advocate for American Beach and various environmental issues in a time of encroaching development. Her efforts helped lead to the protection of American Beach. From the Burney Park parking lot, you can see some good examples of the maritime forest and canopy.

Amelia Island Plantation Charles Fraser and his Sea Pines Company of Hilton Head bought 2,000 acres of uplands and over 1,000 acres of tidal marshes in the 1970s with the goal of developing a residential resort community that existed in harmony with nature, balancing development and preserving natural beauty. It wove roads and development through the ancient live oaks, not over them. It called for limiting beach development to the secondary dune line, preserving the primary dune line for storm protection and recreational uses.

For more information about the Amelia Tree Conservancy and the Treasured Tree Trolley Tour, visit their website at For information about the North Florida Land Trust, visit