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Pinellas Park goes out of state for palm trees

PINELLAS PARK — Palm trees are everywhere in Florida — on beaches, in yards, on postcards and T-shirts.

So, where did Pinellas Park officials go to buy 14 palm trees to spiff up the medians on Park Boulevard?

Arizona — at a cost to the taxpayer of $89,040. That's $6,360 per tree.

Native palms come much cheaper.

They could have lined the length of Park Boulevard with native cabbage palms for the price they paid for just one of the Arizona Medjool palms, said Will Moriaty, roadside vegetation coordinator for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Tim Caddell, Pinellas Park's spokesman, said the city planted some Medjools years ago on Park Boulevard near U.S. 19 N.

"We wanted to match what we already had and what we'd had success with as far as maintenance and attractiveness and so forth," Caddell said. "I don't think anybody ever thought about them, where they came from."

The original Medjool palms seem to be doing very well, he said.

"They're pretty sturdy," Caddell said.

The Medjool date palm, or Phoenix dactylifera, originated in the Middle East where its sugary dates were a favorite of Middle Eastern royalty. Legend says that Medjool fronds were used to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem and in later centuries as part of Palm Sunday celebrations.

The tree, which can grow to 100 feet tall, was transplanted to the Colorado River valley when a virus threatened to kill them all in their native habitat.

Moriaty said the tree has become popular for landscaping across Florida.

"The Medjool date is not a cheap plant, but it is a tree of choice with a lot of chambers of commerce around Florida," Moriaty said.

Pinellas Park had long wanted to put palms along Park but was apparently unable to get state DOT permission. Then, the DOT offered a grant for improvements and Pinellas Park grabbed it.

That's where things get murky. Caddell said city officials remember the DOT presenting a list of acceptable trees. The city, he said, chose the Medjool from that list.

But Moriaty said the DOT has no such list, and the policy is to pretty much let cities choose what they want to plant as long as the vegetation does not present a road hazard and is not an invasive species, like Brazilian peppers. Pinellas Park, he said, asked to use the Medjool.

Pinellas Park hired a contractor to order the trees and do the work, which is almost complete. Some greenery still needs to be added to the medians.

Last week, the City Council approved a check for $105,333.54 to the contractor for substantial completion of the work. The vote outraged Pinellas Park resident Randy Heine who said it was a waste of tax money. Heine had protested the project before and been told that, because it was a grant, it cost the city's taxpayers nothing. Heine referred to that last week, reminding the council that the grant money comes from taxes.

Some information in this report comes from www.tytyga.com and www.floridata.com.

Cabbage palm: Sabal palmetto

Height: 30-60 feet

Leaves: Fan-shaped

Growth Habit: Erect tree; heavy trunk

Soil Type: Very adaptable; wet to dry

Salt Tolerance: High

Remarks: "Florida's official state tree; very numerous; excellent native palm; transplants easily."

Source: Florida Extension Service
Date palm: Phoenix dactylifera

Height: 30-40 feet

Leaves: Feather-shaped

Growth Habit: Tall, erect; gray-green leaves

Soil Type: Well drained

Salt Tolerance: Medium

Remarks: "Too large for most lots; fruit seldom found in Florida."

Pinellas Park goes out of state for palm trees 06/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008 4:12pm]
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