A Destin icon will soon become a memorial, as the magnolia tree located at Harborwalk Village is near death and too great a hazard to leave as is.
“We will not be uprooting it,” said Legendary Inc. CEO Peter Bos, “Most of the branches will stay. The whole trunk of the tree and the branches will become a memorial.”
Bos explained that various efforts have been made to prolong the life of the tree, but it is no longer showing signs of improvement.
“We’ve been working really hard to try to save it,” Bos said, “We tried to do every thing we could do, but the tree is over 100 years past its life expectancy.”
Diagnosis and history
Senior Consulting Arborist, of Caldwell Tree Care, Kevin Caldwell, was brought to the site to evaluate the tree in November 2013. In his assessment of the tree, Caldwell wrote, “I believe a multitude of events from construction of walls, steps, and parking lots…as well as hurricanes and other storms have cumulatively caused this tree to go into an irreversible decline.”
Although some branches are still producing leaves, Caldwell explained that the tree itself is not cultivating any new life.
“As an arborist we assess this tree is dying, as the bulk of its canopy is dead,” Caldwell told The Log, “Basically the tree is living off of stored energy.”
Previous upbeat assessments by others suggested that the tree could outlive us all, butCaldwell explained that the tree may be merely dying of old age.
“Magnolia trees generally live for approximately 80 to 120 years,” Caldwell told The Log, noting that although it is hard to accurately age the tree, the great Destin Magnolia is much older than that.
“Basically it’s an old tree; it might be as much as 170 years old,” he estimated.
The tree is intertwined with Destin history. Local lore has it that the city’s founding father, Captain Leonard Destin, used to tie his boat up to the magnolia during storms, and according to records several major hurricanes have passed through Destin in the approximate course of the tree’s life.
Kathy Marler Blue, a life long Destinite and associate director for The Destin History and Fishing Museum, shared her memories of the iconic magnolia.
“I was born and raised here, and like everybody else, it was a gathering place. It was like the focal point of that area,” Blue said.
She reminisced that in the early days, there were multiple trees down by the docks, but that the magnolia tree was by far the most prominent and was a waypoint for boaters and fishermen.
“You could see the tree from out in the water,” she said. “Imagine what it’s witnessed of the original fishing fleet, the storms, the generations of fishing fleets, and the generations of visitors.”
‘Its memory will never be lost’
Bos told The Log that plans are in motion to erect a memorial for the tree in the next year, to include carvings made from the tree itself.
“An artist has been selected already,” he said, noting that the Kelly family, original owners of the harbor-side property, are very much involved in the decision making process.
Whitney Smith, the attorney for the Kelly Boat Docks Property, confirmed the case saying, “They are currently in the works to get some kind sculpture made from the tree.”
Bos further explained that four cuttings have been taken from the original magnolia tree and are currently being cultivated in a nursery.
“We’re going to plant the magnolia trees, and there will be carvings from blue herons to blue bottles,” Bos said of the proposed memorial. “I do not want to put words in the mouth of the artist. But we are not just going to have one fish carved, but a whole smorgasbord of fish.”
Bos shared that he had hopes that the project would be finished by spring break, but as of now there is no definite timeline for the construction of the memorial.
“The magnolia tree will change shape, but its memory will never be lost,” Bos asserted. “The whole community relates to this tree.”
MARY READY: Magnolia memories in a modern world
TREE OF LIFE: Struggling magnolia will outlive us all, local arborist says
LETTER: Another Destin landmark is struggling to survive