The tree at HarborWalk Village marked “Destin Harbor’s Historic Magnolia Tree” may be on life support, but it will still likely outlive everyone reading this article, an expert tells The Log.

“In people years, that tree is probably 150 years old,” said Peter Bos, CEO of Legendary Inc. “It’s a very old tree and we are doing everything we can to keep it healthy, but right now it’s on a respirator. We’re doing everything we can to feed it.”

The Log contacted Coastline Tree Service & Landscaping of Destin Inc. to get a diagnosis of what’s ailing the tree and a prognosis for its future.

On Wednesday morning, Guy Santucci, owner of Coastline, met a reporter from The Log at the magnolia tree that town founder Leonard Destin lashed his boat to during hurricanes in the mid-1800s.





“I don’t see the tree dying and going away anytime soon, but it does have some deadwood they could possibly think about pruning out of it because that invites bugs and disease,” said Santucci who is a licensed arborist. “This thing will probably be around after we’re all gone.”

And that’s good news to many longtimers, including Santucci, who remembers playing in the majestic tree’s branches as kids.

Flash forward to the present, and the limbs of the magnolia look shockingly bare. But a closeup view of the ends of the branches reveals tiny buds, which Santucci believes will become leaves in a week or two.

To preserve the tree, Santucci recommends removing the deadwood, root feeding it with fertilizer injections, filling the hollowness of the trunk with foam, lessening the number of hanging LED drip lights and limiting the run time of the lights to just a couple hours at nighttime so that the tree can “sleep.”

He said that there’s as much of the tree under the ground as there is above it, estimating the tree to be 40 feet tall with a 50-foot spread.

“It’s actually wider than it is tall, so that gives you the idea that the roots need to be addressed,” said Santucci.

The Log spoke with Bos prior to meeting with Santucci to get his take on the tree’s condition.

Bos had already taken action by getting a tree service out to feed and treat the magnolia. The green sprouts on the tree have given him hope for its survival.

“The tree is very important to us,” said Bos, pointing to a similar scare with the magnolia that happened in 1995, but it bounced back. “I have high hopes.”

But, he adds, “we all need to face the facts.”

During The Log’s interview with Santucci, Bruce Craul stopped in on his way to grab some coffee at HarborWalk Village. He gave insight on what he, as chief operating officer of Legendary Inc., is doing to preserve the tree.

“We have an emotional attachment to this tree,” said Craul. “Besides the water and the sunset, this is the most photographed thing that we have on the property.”

In fact, at one point there were even plans to build a semicircle bar around the tree called “Magnolia Bar,” Craul said.

Craul said that they contacted the company that does the landscaping work at HarborWalk — ValleyCrest Landscaping — to assess the tree, and the company put an arborist from UWF on the case, and that simply put, the arborist’s conclusion of the tree was “it’s old.”







Our tree expert in this story is from Coastline Tree Service & Landscaping of Destin Inc. They have been in business since 1995, serving Destin and the surrounding areas. The company’s employees are current members of the International Society of Arboriculture as well as active members of the Tree Care Industry Association. Click here for more information.


Hollow trunk in need of filling

During Guy Santucci’s assessment, the main draw for concern with the tree seemed to be the hollowing of one side of the trunk.

“Most trees with a hollow center have a shorter life,” Santucci said. “Most magnolias don’t have a hollow center, they are usually solid. They are one of the hardiest trees — you can cut it down all the way to the stump and a new tree will grow right out of the stump.”

Craul asked Santucci if he thought they should fill the hole with foam and Santucci responded by explaining how filling the hole would prolong the tree’s life. Santucci then demonstrated the weakness of the hollow spot on the tree for Craul by standing on the base of the tree’s trunk and hitting the tree with an open palm to the extent where the hollowness echoed.

“The more it’s exposed, the more it just turns into sponge,” said Santucci of the hole’s inner tree material.


LED drip lights could lead to “girdling” of tree

Around last Christmas, the LED drip lights were strung in the tree. Craul said that he noticed that the tree lost a lot of leaves after the installation of the lights.

“We called the arborist and they said no, the lights have nothing to do with it — the trees go through cycles,” said Craul. “Magnolia trees lose leaves a lot — the great thing here is that we still have new growth and so that’s very encouraging for us.”

But Santucci wasn’t so sure and said artificial light can essentially confuse a tree.

“The thing is the lights come on right when it gets dark and the tree — trees usually can sense the seasons from the daylight change,” said Santucci. “When the daylight gets longer and the seasons change, that’s when the tree senses something is going on, winter is approaching and it goes through its changes for winter. It’s either going to shed it’s leaves or it’s going to grow new ones, but the lights could be possibly contributing to that.”

Santucci added that he thought the number of lights was “excessive.”

“The lights look cool, and I hate to say take the lights down, but that is the only factor that really came in right before the changes of the tree,” said Santucci.

If not taking all of the lights down, then at least taking some of them down might help. Santucci also said that instead of wrapping the lights’ many wires around the tree — “girdling” and ultimately cutting into the tree’s limb — a fishnet type of wiring could help solve the issue.

“Yeah we’re going to have to loosen them up,” said Craul, adding that he would take the lights down if he knew they were definitively affecting the tree’s health.

Santucci also brought up his concern for when those wires get rained on. He wonders if they could be sending shocks through the tree. Craul, however, said that the lights are low-voltage, 12-volt lights and he didn’t see it being an issue. He added that the average decorative Christmas lights are 110 volts.


Concrete a hindrance on root system

The concrete walking area surrounding the tree compacts its root system and prevents it from receiving ample amounts of water and others nutrients, Santucci said.

“It is surrounded by concrete and one thing that would benefit it would be root feeding,” said Santucci. “That would give it more nutrients and let it see more foliage.”

This would require going in at the drip line and at every three feet injecting fertilizer into the roots. The drip line is the ring around the tree canopy on the ground level that receives most of the rainwater. Microinjections of nutrients is another remedy and can be done directly through the trunk to avoid the root system.