While the gumbo limbo tree planted on Florida Arbor Day Jan. 19 at Oak Park School may have been small enough for a teacher and two students to lift and set in the ground, it's likely to reach great heights.
A mature tree reaches 25 to 30 feet wide and 25 to 40 feet tall, according to the University of Florida IFAS extension office.
Kurt Boesenberg, the school's vocational arts and horticulture instructor, said the tree is an excellent tie-in to the extensive horticultural programs at Oak Park School, a school for students with disabilities.
The school owes the new addition to the Sarasota Garden Club, which purchased the tree from Sweet Bay Nursery in Parrish, thanks to a grant from Duke Energy to the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.
The club and school joined together for a planting ceremony, an occasion which also saw 115 garden clubs throughout the state of Florida planting trees at the same time, 11 a.m., in celebration of the holiday as well as the 100th anniversary of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.
One of the club's major missions is community outreach, explained Olivia Haynes, chair of Florida Arbor Day at the garden club. At Oak Park School, the ceremony offered a chance for some of the school's students to be involved. They helped move the tree, shovel dirt and spread mulch.
Boesenberg said that due to its tactile nature, gardening has been a great benefit to students.
“A lot of them really just like to get their hands in and get dirty, and they like the physical side of it, because some of them hold too much aggression in, and if we can find a channel for them to vent that aggression, which gardening is — it’s a physical workout — they do it," Boesenberg said.
The gumbo limbo tree is often called the “tourist tree” due to its resemblance to a sunburnt tourist, with shiny, dark red bark peeling from its surface.
“It's not just red. It's a crimson red. It's just gorgeous," Boesenberg said.
He also said the planting of the tree will serve as a fitting finale to his 15 years spent at the school as an instructor, when he retires in August 2024.
“He is a rare specimen, he is wonderful,” Haynes said of Boesenberg.
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.