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Key West Time
October 17th
12:31am · 80°F

Hurricane Irma Takes Some Trees but Not Key West Spirit

by: Sarah Tamar Klitenick

Key West's tree canopy is already green and flourishing after Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys just a few months ago.  Mother nature’s wrath abides by no man’s rules and extends to all those in the community both directly and through our community’s empathetic nature. Of the many things that make Key West so special, the iconic and exotic tropical trees resonate in the hearts of Florida Keys natives. They grace our island home with seasons of colorful explosions and dwarfed the buildings under their outstretched arms.  Some give us seasonal fruits and many of the gentle giants cool the weary in their shade and offer shelter and food for the birds and other local wildlife.

Some big trees were uprooted but stood up again after the storm. Here is a look at strong root ball

So it went that during the hurricane we lost quite a few of our beloved trees that made a distinct place of our island.  One in particular would be the gigantic strangler fig tree located in the courtyard of the Key West Garden Club at West Martello tower.  This tree harbored many celebrations and parties, and it broke our heart to see it go.  It was a fortress within the fort, as you could walk within the dangling root system and around the trunk.  The Florida Keys lost many of this type of tree and other tropical varieties because of their shallow roots and wide canopies.

Uprooted Strangler Fig Tree at the West Martello Located on Higgs Beach

But mother nature is incredibly resilient, and as the refreshing rains came to the island, green began to quickly sprout from the trees. At first the skyscape seemed nearly barren with nearly all the leaves blown off by the storm. But already the canopy is green again as you can see from the fly-over photo above.  As we miss some of the grandfather trees that are gone, we now see a re-birth and enjoy new vistas from different vantages of the island and sea.  Where once there were clusters of thick canopy that kept some gardens dark, it is  now sunny enough for the plants who had been overshadowed to burst with new growth and vigor.  There has been so much cleaning, pruning, and planting going on by residents around Key West, to plant new life where the old is now gone.   Natural beauty is being reborn and the next generation of wild tropical trees has begun!

While out for a stroll or bike ride around Key West in years past we have seen the face of the island change many times.  There are many artists who lived, created and were inspired by these “Giving Trees.”  Shel Silverstein’s home was taken down during Hurricane Irma which was a most notable subject to the trees.

The iconic kapok tree in front of the court house near Mile Marker 0 stood strong through the storm

On Dey Street, there is an artist collective of studios, known as the Depoo Mansion, among what was one of the most giant ficus magnificent trees.  Some may be happy it no longer drops the millions of tiny figs that squished into the grounds and left rotten fruit all around the ground.  It fell slowly with grace, missing the structures, leaving a new area to fill with island style art, music, and creativity.

The island skyscape is opened up and trees with green leaves are everywhere to be seen

A storm usually shakes things up a bit more than your average landscaping project but in some cases this is the cleanest we have seen things around town.  Much effort has been made to tidy up the grounds and tighten up the tree tops to prevent damage in the future when high winds come.  Some of the trees that fell down saved and stood back up, and we are grateful for that. Key West is a strong community, we dust ourselves off and get up and ready for another great season of island living.

Clean up efforts in front of the Ernest Hemingway home and museum on Whitehead Street

Sarah Klitenick was born and raised in Key West, and has seen the island recover from many storms. She loves nature and is thrilled with at how quickly the gardens and trees are recovering after Hurricane Irma. 

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