Taking Root

Arbor Day Reminds Us of Majestic Beauty and Vital Role of Trees

Writer Stephanie Churn Lubow pays homage to her three favorite trees in Sarasota.

By Stephanie Churn Lubow April 26, 2024

The large weeping fig at Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota.
The large weeping fig at Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota.

It’s not difficult to love trees, with their majestic beauty and the gentle shade and protection they offer us, as well as the habitat for wildlife that they provide. It's estimated that one large tree can photosynthesize a day’s oxygen supply for up to four people, so the next time you take a deep breath, thank the trees for giving us the very air we breathe.

There is even an entire holiday, Arbor Day, dedicated to planting trees and educating people about their vital role in our ecosystem. Most states celebrate this holiday on the last Friday in April (in this case, today, April 26), but a few states observe it on different dates throughout the year based on the best tree planting times in their area, including Florida, which also celebrates on the third Friday in January.

While there is much to be praised about trees in general, once in a while a specific tree will stand out among the rest or hold particular meaning for us, and we can’t help but develop a special kinship with it. Maybe a beloved pet is buried at the base of its trunk, or it flowers magnificently at a certain time of year, or it provides a delicious fruit to eat. If a beloved tree dies or is felled by a storm, we might grieve its loss as we would that of a close friend.

For me, one measure of a good tree is if it inspires me to spread out my blanket underneath its branches, kick off my shoes and while away a blissful hour or two in its shady comfort, leafing through the pages of a good book.

In honor of Arbor Day on April 26, here are my three favorite trees in Sarasota.

The Bodhi tree at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Bodhi tree at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Ficus religiosa)

This tree stands at the southern tip of the main peninsula of Selby Gardens, with the waters of Sarasota Bay and Hudson Bayou on three sides, and is surrounded by a soft patch of grass that is a perfect spot to sit and read, journal, or meditate. In fact, the ficus religiosa, which originated in southern Asia, is believed to be the tree that Buddha meditated under to attain enlightenment. Benches near the Bo tree provide guests a place to enjoy the expansive views of the Bay and the John Ringling Bridge, and on even the warmest of summer days, there always seems to be a bit of a breeze coming off the water. The heart-shaped leaves of the Bo tree have a papery texture, and the whispery rustling they make in the wind is one of my favorite sounds — calming and meditative. I’ve kept a continuous membership at Selby Gardens for years just so I can come sit under this tree anytime I want. In September 2001, the Bo tree was downed by Tropical Storm Gabrielle. A massive effort to save it included using a marine construction barge in the Bay equipped with a crane to hoist the tree upright again. Amazingly, the Bo tree completely recovered!

Low-hanging live oak at Phillippi Estate Park
Low-hanging live oak at Phillippi Estate Park

The low-hanging live oak (Quercus virginiana) at Phillippi Estate Park

This tree is one of several live oaks draped with Spanish moss in the grassy expanse of Phillippi Estate Park that stretches towards Phillippi Creek. What makes this particular oak tree special is that one of its large, low-hanging branches almost touches the ground and creates a cozy, shaded nook for relaxing either by yourself or while your youngsters, if you have them, walk the lowest branch like a balance beam. Professional photographers are surely familiar with this very popular location for family photos, engagement shots, dog portraits, etc. When my son was younger, he and I would often hang out in this spot after throwing a frisbee in the park. Occasionally, we’d see a family approaching us in their cute matching outfits, and we’d resign ourselves to having to surrender “our spot” to their photo shoot for a little while. On one visit, we discovered some metallic confetti from a gender reveal party scattered all over the ground. Months later, we were still finding bits of it in the grass.

The large weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) at Bayfront Park

This tree is actually two trees on the west side of Bayfront Park, facing towards Bird Key (pictured at top). If you’re a frequenter of the park, you’ve probably admired these stately trees, standing side by side and set just back from the walking path, their upper limbs gently entwined. The larger of the two spreads its canopy wide enough to create a circle of shade that many can enjoy at once. You might find young lovers sprawled in the grass with a bottle of wine at sunset, or perhaps a family with kids climbing up into the thick lower branches, or bicyclists resting on the ground next to their bikes and cooling off in the breeze. I’ve seen prom pictures taken and even a small wedding ceremony performed under this tree. In the ground at its base is a small metal plaque that reads “In Loving Memory of our Mother/ Ann Arnold Wisdom/ 4-16-1915 to 2-16-2008.” I don’t know who Ann Arnold Wisdom is (and Google apparently doesn’t either), but it seems that she must have had a good long life. Perhaps sitting under this tree dedicated to her can infuse us with the wisdom of the ages.

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