Sun, beach, and palm trees – when most people think of the state of Florida, these are the top three things that tend to come to mind first. This is especially true of my family members who reside in New Jersey, who believe I live in a palm tree vacation paradise 24/7.
Cabbage palm trees, formally known as the Sabal palmetto, are commonly recognized to be the state tree. At every turn, palm trees can be seen lining the median of many highways and the coastlines of the beaches. There was even a very tall palm tree that was planted in the front yard of my house. Having spent most of my time in South Florida, I began to think that perhaps they could be right.
It was not until I moved to Gainesville to attend the University of Florida that I realized there may not be as much as truth to what my family up North may think. While palm trees can be found predominately throughout Florida, it does not mean they are necessarily representative of the tree diversity that can be found throughout the state. Let’s explore some of the stunning trees I have come to love while being in North Florida!
The Majestic Beauty of the South
Live oak trees are quite symbolic of the South and Florida is as south as one can go in the contiguous United States. While it would be rare to see live oaks in my hometown, live oaks can be commonly found around Gainesville. A possible reason that such oaks are not as prevalent in the southern parts of the state in comparison to its northern parts could be the rise in urban growth. As many cities continue to construct and expand, the territory for live oaks to thrive and survive greatly decreases. These trees are large in size, ranging from 40 to 80 feet tall, with massive spreading limbs that require a great amount of space to grow. It has quite a magnificent presence that leaves me in awe each time I see one.
During my freshman year on my daily walks to class, I would have to pass by the Stephen O’Connell Center. At that corner of Stadium Road and Gale Lemerand, there is a beautiful live oak with its branches draped in Spanish moss. The feature of Spanish moss, which is in fact neither a type of moss nor from the country of Spain, is one that I truly admire about the live oak trees.
Another interesting feature about this tree is that is can act as a habitat of its own for a variety of animals. Birds can build their nests on the limbs while squirrels may find shelter in the holes of the oak’s trunk. Insects and spiders can also call the live oak’s bark home while also providing a potential meal to the birds in the branches. The tree itself produces acorns that are consumed not only by the birds and squirrels but also by other mammals that find themselves in the surrounding area – this can include black bears, deer, ducks, and even wild turkeys.
The Not-So Bald Cypress
Bald cypress trees are not bald at all. Don’t believe me ? Found particularly in swampy areas, cypress trees are enormous and can reach heights of 150 feet tall with its roots grounded in the nearby water. Right above the roots, these trees have a structure known as cypress knees. Trees with knees? Weird, right? I promise this a real thing. Knees are vertical, wood projections that surpass the normal water levels. Although the exact function of cypress knees are unknown, it is thought to provide necessary support and stability for the tree.
Gainesville is known to be a swamp which makes it more likely to see cypress trees in comparison to the tropical east coast of Florida that is lined with beaches. My first encounter with these kinds of trees was at the infamous Lake Alice at the University of Florida. It is a place where the trees are mirrored by the water beneath them creating a breath-taking view. The number of cypress trees on the lake appears to be endless and they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon since they have to ability to survive for hundreds of years.
The Lovely Magnolia
Thanks to the Tolbert residential area, where I reside in during my time in Gainesville, I have the opportunity to live right by a Southern Magnolia tree. This tree is more known for its fragrant, white magnolia flowers that bloom each spring and through the summers. It is said that the flowers release a scent that is similar to that of the smell of lemons.
A lesser-known fact about the Southern Magnolia is regarding its leaves. Whereas the leaves of many trees fall during the autumn months of the year, the leaves of magnolia trees actually shed during the spring months. This is because these trees are evergreen trees, meaning that they lose their leaves gradually rather than all at once to adapt to changing seasons. When this occurs, the grass around the tree is buried under all the older leaves to the extent that it looks like there are more leaves than grass.
When you find yourself out and about in nature or in a different environment, you never know what kind of tree you can encounter. Each tree is an adventure of its own, filled with fascinating features and endless chances to learn something new. As you walk outside your house, whether it be for work or to run an errand, I invite you to look out for the tree diversity present in your own surroundings.
All photos provided by Chelsea Collison.