On the south side of the New River, across from Fort Lauderdale’s historic district, towers a stunningly large tree. The tree is an Albizia Saman – more commonly known as a “rain tree” because its leaves curl up during precipitation. One of our guides, Chris Brennan, recently brought to our attention that this nationally-treasured tree is in danger. This species of tree might look familiar to you because an even larger rain tree in Tobago served as the site where castaways built an elaborate tree house in the movie Swiss Family Robinson.
In 1982, the Fort Lauderdale rain tree was declared the largest of its species in the state of Florida. And since Florida is the only state in the US where rain trees grow, it is probably the largest in the country. In 1987, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission added this six-story-high tree to a list of 36 protected trees to ensure that it would not be damaged or removed. However, developer and property owner Asi Cymbal has plans to build an enormous condominium in the same location. If this rain tree is destroyed, only 11 protected trees will remain standing in the city.
Cymbal Development believes that a residential project will liven up an all-but-deserted area of Fort Lauderdale and provide affordable housing that will draw a young crowd to the city. A comment by one of the architects reinforces Cymbal’s high hopes for the area: “Where there is nothing, everything is possible.” Plans are in the works to build three buildings (one with 25 stories and two with 36 stories) that will collectively be called the “Marina Lofts.” The towering structures will utilize a “hip design,” will include a restaurant, and will provide housing for 1,000 tenants. Cymbal claims that he doesn’t wish to destroy the tree and has started making elaborate plans to relocate it. Although Cymbal says that the new location will make the tree more accessible to the public, the spot he picked is only 90 square feet. The rain tree’s crown (top of branches) spans 127.5 feet… Will the tree have enough room?
Local arborists argue that the tree won’t survive if it is moved. Click here to read an article from the Wall Street Journal that outlines the relocation plan. Even if Cymbal builds the Marina Lofts around the tree, the high rise buildings will block the sunlight and the tree will most likely perish. Fort Lauderdale’s nature-aligned citizens are worried and have started a petition that they hope will force Cymbal to alter his plans. Chris’s concern led him to make a comedic YouTube video about the situation (check it out here). Some citizens simply think building a new condominium in an area in which most housing developments already face foreclosure and are half-empty is a bad idea in and of itself. Florida in fact has the highest foreclosure rate in the US.
The rain tree, also known as the “five o’clock tree” and the “monkey pod” boasts the largest crown of any tree and is native to South America, Southeast Asia, and the Tropics. It is believed that early pioneers planted this specimen in Fort Lauderdale close to a century ago. Fort Lauderdale’s rain tree is 20 feet wide at the base of its trunk; I can only imagine how big the root system must be.
You can help save this magnificent tree by signing the petition: click here.