A whisper from the woods

The Story of Fred, the Florida Celebri-Tree

Nov 27, 2023

Kat O’Lone is our regional coordinator in the USA. She is also a human interpreter and good friend to Miss Bonnie McSquirrely – our GTI mascot!

Kat wrote this month’s Guest Blog, introducing a very particular tree from Florida, USA. This tree has a name and is “a symbol of hope and resilience” to the local community.

Thank you for writing this article and for sharing this story with our community, Kat!

 

The Story of Fred, the Florida Celebri-Tree

Key West Florida is the southernmost point in the continental USA and if you’re traveling by car there is only one way that connects all Florida Keys, called Overseas Highway. It is considered one of the most scenic highways in the United States, if not worldwide. A modern wonder, the 113-mile (about 182 km) road incorporates 42 bridges over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. The well-known Seven Mile Bridge connects the Keys to mainland Florida.

Often referred to as the “Highway that Goes to Sea” the original road was built as a train route in 1912 and badly damaged by a hurricane in 1935. Eventually, the original railroad was decommissioned and the current Overseas Highway was constructed in 1982. The Old Seven Mile Bridge runs parallel to the current contemporary highway and it’s where you can see one of the most beloved Florida Keys residents – Fred the Tree.

One section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge is open as a recreation area where people can bike or walk across with nothing but blue water on each side of the bridge. However, the piece where Fred grows is not connected to land and can only be accessed by boat, or from a helicopter and such.

Fred is an Australian pine tree, also known as salt-sprayed Casuarina, and no one really knows how Fred ended up on the old bridge. There are a lot of different theories and local urban legends about Fred’s origin, but most people believe that Fred sprouted from the bird droppings over 30 some years ago.

 

Fred, the symbol of hope and resilience

Visible from a mile away the green burst of life, seemingly growing out of concrete, is an unexpected sight on an old bridge, but a delight for drivers passing by. People wonder how Fred was able to grow and sustain himself for all these years, not to mention survive Florida hurricanes, but the trestles supporting the old bridge originally were filled with sand and provided enough organic matter for Fred’s roots to dig in and grow. It’s important to mention that Casuarina trees can tolerate extremely salty soil and high temperatures making Australian Pine trees long favored for use in erosion control along beaches. Native to Australia, South Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia they were introduced to Florida in the 1890s, but are now outlawed in the state due to their invasive nature, rapid growth rate, and non-native status. Possession of Australian pine with the intent to sell or plant is illegal in Florida without a special permit.

It’s amazing that despite all the odds, Fred not only continues to thrive but is such a beloved tree; he’s even considered the Keys’ classic! The iconic image of Fred on the bridge can be found on Florida Keys souvenirs. Fred survived numerous storms including Hurricane Irma (2017) and Hurricane Ian (2022), so for many Fred is not just a tree, but a symbol of the resilient nature of Florida Keys residents. Storms come and go, but Fred remains Keys Strong. Fred was also the inspiration and is the main hero of a book by Leigh Guest about “the old tree who is loved by all, but is left to face life’s most challenging events alone.”

Fred is such an iconic tree that for about 13 years now, locals known as Fred’s Elves have been “magically” decorating the tree for the Holidays with lights and special ornaments. People personalize and donate buoys to “dress up” Fred for the Holidays and in recent years a Key West synagogue donated a solar-powered menorah that lights up. Even a smaller tree that sprouted next to Fred gets decorated as well, making everything an impressive light display, especially since it’s in the middle of an ocean on a dilapidating piece of bridge. People jokingly named Fred’s little companion Wilma, others call it Fred Jr, while Fred’s Elves always refer to the little tree as Randi.

Last year, Fred’s Holiday decorating had to be postponed due to a reason that may surprise you most… Hollywood! Even though the lifespan of an Australian Pine tree is only 40-50 years, Fred is going to be immortalized in the remake of a cult 1989 Patrick Swayze movie “Road House”. The remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal was due to stream on Amazon Prime in 2023, but it’s been delayed and the exact date hasn’t been released as of writing this article. Fred, who supposedly was listed by name in the script as “a lonely tree sitting out in the middle of a bridge” is supposed to be a metaphor for the solitary nature of the main character.

If you ever drive to the Keys look for the famous tree between Mile Marker 41 and 42 and don’t forget to wave when you pass by Fred, the Celebri-Tree.

 

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Do you have celebri-trees where you live?

Tell us your story in the comment section below.

 

Please share this. Thank you!

1 Comment

  1. Mark Allaway

    Hi Kat, Great story. Nice to see our Amercian friends adopting an Aussie from down under. We call them She-Oaks down here, but Aussie Pine sounds OK too!

    Reply

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