Joseph Weintraub remembers something magical from his childhood growing up in the Tampa Bay area. The trees.
Something about the Banyan trees on Beach Drive by the Museum of Fine Arts captivated him as a child. Maybe it was their branches that reach into the sky as if trying to grasp onto something. Or their hanging roots, which laze toward the ground before planting themselves in the earth and becoming new trees themselves.
Eventually, Weintraub moved to Oregon and the Banyan trees became a distant memory. But almost every time Weintraub returns, whether to visit family or bring friends, he comes back to these trees as a sort of pilgrimage, to pay his respects.
Since the early 1970s, based on a presidential proclamation of former U.S. President Richard Nixon, the last Friday in April has been federally designated as Arbor Day.
The day actually originates from Nebraska City, where a newspaper editor suggested a day dedicated to planting trees in the community. That first Arbor Day happened about 100 years before the U.S. government created a federal holiday.
In honor of the day, our photojournalists explored the Tampa Bay area’s most distinctive and striking trees.
Kapok Tree, St. Petersburg
The Kapok tree is native to the southern parts of the Americas, particularly Mexico, Central America and northern parts of South America, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.
The Kapok tree bears a cotton-esque fiber that once was used as a type of down in pillows and mattresses.
The Museum of Fine Arts’ tree, also called a Bombax tree, according to their website, was originally planted by the museum’s first director, Rexford Stead. At the time, it was only two to three feet high and grew out of a bucket.
Safety Harbor Live Oak
This prominent oak in Safety Harbor may be the oldest live oak in Pinellas County, according to the city of Safety Harbor’s placard.
The tree is estimated to be between 300 and 500 years old and measures about 20 feet in girth.
The Safety Harbor Baranoff Oak Tree takes its name from local philanthropist Dr. Salem Baranoff, who formerly owned the Safety Harbor Spa.
The tree is part of a national registry of oak trees maintained by the Live Oak Society of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation.
Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve
The Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve encompasses a number of smaller parks that offer recreational opportunities like paddling, fishing and forest trails.
The site’s main purpose was initially for storing and supplying water, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s site. The nearby Morris Bridge well field became a source of drinking water for the city of Tampa in the 1970s.
Historic Roser Park Palms
Only blocks away from downtown St. Petersburg, Historic Roser Park’s looming royal palms stand tall against the blue sky.
The park was landscaped in 1914 by C.M. Roser. Much of its original flora and fauna was taken away by Roser, who left only a few live oaks and pines by the creek, according to an application for the park’s historic designation.
Instead, he planted live oaks and royal palms throughout the park, as well as a section of bananas.
Royal palms tend to have long stalks and can grow up to 80 feet, according to horticulture and agricultural experts.
Coffee Pot Bayou Tabebuia Tree
The Tabebuia tree grows about 20 to 40 feet and produces pink to white flowers in spring and summer, according to the University of Florida.
The tree is also known as a pink trumpet, according to the Florida Botanical Gardens site, because of its appearance and blooming florals.
Palm Harbor Sabal Palm with Strangler Fig
A strangler fig is tightly wrapped around the base of this sabal palm in Palm Harbor’s Wall Springs Park.
The sabal palm is the state tree of Florida, designated in 1953 as such.
Strangler figs can choke their host trees to the point that the host trees die.
Pinellas Point Banyan Driveway
This house in Pinellas Point has a driveway built between two Banyan trees.
The large, sprawling Banyan tree is native to India and is the country’s national tree, according to the World Atlas. India boasts the largest Banyan tree in the world.
Florida is the only place in North America to have Banyan trees, according to the University of Florida’s plant directory.
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve Sand Live Oak
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve Operations Foreman Howard Saytor estimates the Sand Live Oak on the preserve is at least 125 years old.
“This is what I’m talking about. This is how trees are supposed to grow,” he said. “If I ever caught anyone cutting a branch off this tree, it would be like cutting a limb off my own body.”
He notes how the tree’s branches grow to the ground to stabilize the oak, helping it survive major storms. Saytor estimates the Oak provides about one third of an acre of shade when the sun is directly above.
Pass-A-Grille Beach Palm Trees
These sabal palm trees lie close to Pass-a-Grille Beach in St. Pete Beach.
The trees grow particularly well in tropical environments like the southeastern U.S., Cuba and the Bahamas, according to a site on state symbols. The sabal palm is on the seal of the state of Florida.
Hong Kong Orchid Tree
The Hong Kong Orchid Tree grows to between 20 and 40 feet in height, according to horticulture and agriculture experts.
The tree creates six-inch-long blooms that can be purple, rose-colored and pink during the summer, fall and winter, experts indicate.
The tree is the national flower of Hong Kong, according to literature from Sunken Gardens.