By Chris Hastings
January 20, 2022
In Honor of Arbor Day (January 21)
Just in time for Florida Arbor Day, the giant Sugarberry Tree (Celtis laevigata) in Old Town has been officially named the “Florida Champion” for its species. This means that it is the largest known living Sugarberry in the state of Florida. The previous champion Sugarberry in Hamilton County died, allowing the Old Town tree to claim the honor.
The Florida Champion Tree Program is run by the Florida Forest Service. According to Will Liner, Urban Forestry Program Manager with the Florida Forest Service, “The Florida Champion Trees program is open to all tree species that grow in our state except those listed as invasive exotics by the Florida Pest Plant Council. The Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) in Old Town is the largest tree of its species active in the Florida Champion Tree register, earning it the title of Florida Champion in our program. If you would like to learn more about Florida Champion Trees or nominate a tree of your own, please visit our website at www.FDACS.gov.”
Amelia Island is home to two other Florida Champion Trees: the Tough Bumelia (Sideroxylon tenax) and the Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda). Given the historic nature of the island, there could be other large specimens waiting to be discovered.
The City of Fernandina Beach also has a Heritage Tree Program that allows members of the public to nominate trees for recognition, protection, and financial assistance for their care.
According to David Neville, the City of Fernandina Beach Arborist, “We are excited to have a new Champion Tree in the City of Fernandina Beach. This wonderful announcement comes at a time when we are promoting our Heritage Tree Program throughout the City. If you would like to know more about our program, or nominate a tree, please visit our website at www.fbls.us/367/trees.”
The Florida Champion Sugarberry is located in Old Town at the home of Chris and Amy Hastings. Chris is an arborist and has been caring for the historic tree since they purchased the home. According to Chris, “It is particularly fun for an arborist to find a Champion Tree, but to have one at your house is a dream come true!”
According to historic records housed at the Amelia Island History Museum, the Hastings’ lot in Old Town was first owned by David Garvin, an English settler who came to Fernandina in the early 1800’s. He built a “dwelling house” on the property soon after Old Town was platted in 1811. It is fun to ponder whether David Garvin could have known the Champion tree as a young sapling growing in his backyard. Regardless, the Champion Sugarberry has seen much of the history of Old Town unfold.
Editor’s Note: Chis and Amy Hastings live on Garden Street in Old Town which is home to this beautiful Sugarberry Tree. We are fortunate to have Chris, an arborist, share with us the recent designation of his Town Sugarberry Tree, now a “Florida Champion!” Thank you Chris for your contribution to the Fernandina Observer and Happy Arbor Day!