Law change aims to maintain Florida's state tree

The state tree of Florida is often cut down when new buildings come up. But one city is looking to ensure the trees stay around.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The state tree of Florida, the sabal palmetto or cabbage palm, is often forgotten about in landscaping... and it's often cut down when new buildings and neighborhoods are built. St. Augustine, though, takes steps to protect it.

Danny and Chuck Lippi are a father and son tree expert team.

They are two of 18 master arborists in Florida. They also happen to be fans of the Florida state tree.

You may recognize it as the palm tree on the state flag.

"It's our Florida state tree," Danny Lippi said, "and it's often disregarded."

He can't think of any place in Florida where it's protected. "When it comes to developers, most construction crews, most landscaper architects and engineers consider them junk and worthless," Lippi said. 

When property is cleared of trees for neighborhoods and businesses, developers may save the more showy trees like live oaks and magnolias, but "they give absolutely no consideration to sabal palms," he noted. "They just chop it down."

Monday, the St. Augustine City Commission voted to change the local tree ordinance to save or maintain the sabal palm population. The commission increased the deficit for removing a sabal palm. That means "the tree that's replaced will be larger or, in some cases, will result in additional palms trees being replanted after the tree is removed," said David Birchim, the director of the city's Planning and Building Department. 

The goal is simple. He said "it's to maintain our canopy of sabal palms."

Lippi said, "I think this is a great step in the right direction."

Lippi added that saving sabal palms is smart. "Once established they're drought tolerant, they tolerate long periods of inundation, they don't need to be maintained or fertilized," Lippi said.

That's unlike the weaker and more expensive imported palm trees that are popular.

So, he and his dad root-on the city's move to save the sabal.

"It definitely merits a lot more attention. It's a wonderful plant," he said.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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