Cartoons by Jon McIntosh

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Paper: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Author: CHUCK McGINNESS, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Date: November 11, 2005

This seaside community's most recognizable landmark - the Australian pine canopy that lines State Road A1A - was torn and tattered in Hurricane Wilma.

But residents who cherish the beauty and charm of the trees that others find hideous need not worry. The ones that fell or were badly damaged in the storm will likely be replaced, Town Manager Bill Trasher said Wednesday.Thrasher said he hasn't taken a count of the casualties, but town arborist C. Way Hoyt, who plans to inspect the more than 300 pines today, said he's heard the damage was slight.

Over the years, the town has dug in its heels and threatened to go any lengths to preserve its signature pines.

Gulf Stream's canopy is one of the last vestiges of Old Florida in the area. During the 1920s, the trees lined the roadway from Jacksonville to Miami.

In 1992, after the state transportation department marked the trees for destruction, the town rallied support among state lawmakers to designate its two-mile stretch of A1A as a historic and scenic highway. The designation prohibits the removal of healthy Australian pines.

Four years later, the state passed another law allowing the town to cultivate and plant new pines. The town has a successful program to nurture seedlings on public property until they are tall enough and sturdy enough to replant along A1A, Thrasher said.

In the debate over the value of the non-native tree species, the Australian pine has been politicized and taken a bad rap, Hoyt said.

Environmentalists argue that pines growing near the ocean inhibit the nesting of sea turtles, prevent the growth of essential native dune vegetation and generally disrupt the coastal ecosystem. Critics also say the tree's shallow roots allow them to topple easily in hurricanes.

Australian pines growing in deep sandy soil, like that in Gulf Stream, develop extensive root systems and are extremely tough trees, Hoyt said. The town's pines are inspected at least once a year to make sure they're healthy.

"Overall, they're very strong trees, very storm tolerant," Hoyt said.

Copyright (c) 2005 Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.

December 18, 1996
Author: NEIL SANTANIELLO Staff Writer

They came, they planted and they were booed.

Under the scornful gaze of a dozen protesters, some armed with signs jeering "Gulf Stream: Weed City USA," a band of town leaders and residents marched onto a shoulder of State Road A1A on Tuesday and did something outlawed in every Florida community but theirs.

They planted a young Australian pine tree, the same exotic plant that managers of Florida's public lands are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to eradicate.

After a few turns of a shovel and some ceremonial words, the red-ribboned sapling plopped into the ground, marking the start of a controversial program to line Gulf Stream's two-mile coastal drive with new Australian pines as older ones die or weaken from age and disease.

"No one can deny the beauty of the trees" along A1A, said Gulf Stream's consulting arborist, C. Way Hoyt.

The protesters, which included members of the state's Exotic Pest Plant Council and the Florida Native Plant Society, were not of the same mind.

They condemned the well-heeled town for its successful fight to persuade state legislators to let it grow a tree residents see as important to the character of their ribbon of coastal highway, proclaimed a historic and scenic route by the state.

Said a sign held by another protester: "Australian pine - weed of the rich and famous."

The town did not easily win its planting rights. It prevailed only after a third attempt to get a bill through the state Legislature recognizing what Town Manager Scott Harrington calls Gulf Stream's "unique" need for the tree.

Sponsored by Rep. William Andrews, R-Delray Beach, the bill authorizes the town to plant Australian pine along A1A from Pelican Lane to Sea Road to maintain the canopy that 400 of the trees provide.

The town even landed federal transportation funds - $250,000 - to help pay for a redesign of A1A's landscape to incorporate a mix of new Australian pines and native trees.

The Australian pine has been illegal to plant in Florida since 1990, labeled along with melaleuca and Brazilian pepper as a scourge on Florida's landscape.

The trees, which can live 60 years or longer and climb to 100 feet or more, outmuscle native plants, sink shallow roots that make them prone to toppling in hurricanes and serve no important purpose for native wildlife, enviromental regulators argue.

"We're the people on the front lines, and this is basically another beachhead of exotic plants we have to fight now," said Steven Farnsworth, a native plant society member and Palm Beach County environmental regulator.

But Gulf Steam resident Jean Breazeale, smitten with the town's Australian pines, says the trees are not as big an environmental evil as commonly portrayed.

"I think these people missed the point," she said.

The trees may not be sure-footed in some inland areas but are more secure along beaches, she said. Walls of Australian pine, also known as casuarina, are propagated along coastlines in other subtropical and tropical regions because their root systems can protect sand dunes from erosion, she said.

"It certainly doesn't belong on the same list as melaleuca," she said.

The town maintains and prunes existing trees to keep them sturdy, and says that upkeep and their ability to thrive along the coast does not make them the safety hazard some fear.

Native plant advocates think the town will be proved wrong if a hurricane hits, and they say the exemption could set a precedent for other communities to grow banned exotics.

"It's just bad government," Thayer said.

Harrington said the town embarked on its campaign to keep the trees after the state Department of Transportation startled the community in 1992 by tagging 90 of the trees for destruction.

"Town Hall was busting at the seams" with angry residents, leading to negotiations with DOT to save healthy trees and legislative lobbying to plant new ones, Harrington said.

Copyright 1996 Sun-Sentinel Company

May 8, 1996
Author: NEIL SANTANIELLO Staff Writer

To the captains of Florida's war against exotic pest plants, Gulf Stream has gone from a dot on the landscape to a blot.

Last week legislators agreed to exempt the oceanfront hamlet, population 700, from a state ban on planting or growing Australian pines.

Botanists and land managers, who are spending millions of dollars restoring Florida's noxious weed-infested landscapes to a more natural state, are peeved the town prevailed.

And it does not appear Gov. Lawton Chiles will veto the bill. The state Department of Environmental Protection said it won't ask him to do so

"It's not like the world is going to fall apart," said Jeremy Craft, environmental resource permitting director for the DEP. "

We don't like the bill in particular because we are designated to control exotic plants and not foster their growth," he said. "But given the situation we have in this particular instance, we are trying to operate in a common sense way."

Gulf Stream tenaciously argued it needed to replace dying Australian pines to maintain the shady, tree-canopied character of its "historic" coastal drive, State Road A1A.

Greg Jubinsky, program manager for the DEP's Bureau of Aquatic Plant Management, said he fears the exemption, approved in a last-minute flurry of bills rushed through the House and Senate on Friday, could set a precedent for other communities to oppose efforts to stamp out their patches of non-native pines, melaleuca or Brazilian pepper or other pest plants.

"It depresses me a bit this would happen," said Jubinsky, who predicted the bill would be a hot topic at a three-day Florida Pest Plant Council meeting that began today in Tallahassee.

"It takes a lot of work to identify those plants that are problems, and something like this comes along and kind of throws you off your feet."

But he said he understands the town's affinity for the towering, fast-growing pines known to biologists as casuarina and introduced into Florida in 1887 to serve as windbreaks and prevent erosion.

"When you're down in that part of the world, you're sort of hard up for shade," he said.

Ted Center, a federal entomologist involved in finding biological controls for pest plants, said Gulf Stream's push to preserve its pines is short-sighted and "selfish" in light of how the trees out-muscle native plants.

Australian pines, which thrive south of Orlando, grow swiftly (8 to 10 feet a year) and dense enough to elbow out native flora. They have lifespans of 50 to 60 years. Detractors contend that roadside stands such as Gulf Stream's pose hazards to motorists because they are shallow-rooted and could topple easily in hurricanes.

The South Florida Water Management District spent a lot of time removing fallen casuarina from canals after Hurricane Andrew struck, said Francois Laroche, a district scientist.

"It's a shame" the town got its wish, he said.

But Gulf Stream's 70-year-old trees - about 400 line a canopied quarter-mile strip of A1A - grow in safer circumstances, said Town Manager Scott Harrington.

"This isn't throwing [Australian pine) seeds to the wind," he said.

During storms, Gulf Stream's healthy pines are likely to hold their ground because they rise from a coastal dune that allows their tap roots to sink deep into the sand, he said. In other areas, the trees spring from thinner layers of soil atop rock substrate, which curtails their root spread, he said.

There are no nearby preserves that could be sullied by their seeds, and the trees are a key part of the ambiance of the town's stretch of A1A, declared a state "historic and scenic highway" in 1992, Harrington said.

"I absolutely agree that Australian pines in the wrong place are the worst things in the world," said town resident Jean Breazeale, a leader in the save-the-pines fight who spent two years researching how the trees function on other continents.

However, she said "these trees thrive in deep sandy soils" and are more maligned than they deserve. "We've talked to experts all over the world who are using these trees in sandy soils for dune stabilization and land reclamation," she said. "All these reactions [to the bill) are so blown out of proportion."

Gulf Stream did not win permission to plant the pines - outlawed in 1990 - until its third go-around with the Legislature, when Rep. William Andrews, R-Delray Beach, filed a local bill that authorizes plantings from Pelican Lane to Sea Road.

"We were not going to bang our head against a brick wall" if the town's case looked hopeless, Harrington said.

Andrews said he fully expects environmental regulators to fume. "They'll go ape," he said.

But he said it is silly to tell Gulf Stream "you can't plant 10 to 20 new trees a year when in our state and local parks they're just coming up left and right."

Some preserves allow their Australian pines to grow because their numbers are such that "quite honestly, if you take them out you are going to have a bald park," Andrews said.

Moreover, Florida is a long way from erasing the last Australian pine from its landscape, he said.

"The day I see these are the last [casuarina) trees in the state of Florida, I'll be more than happy to file a bill to take them out," he said

Copyright 1996 Sun-Sentinel Company


This little guy has been growing and surving out in the middle of the Old Seven Mile Bridge for over a decade. Sometimes you can catch glimpses of it sparkling at night from mysterious solar-powered lights and other various decorations. A very sweet sight, especially in such an inaccessible and harsh-weathered spot!

Click here to read about the ornamentation...