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DESTIN’S MAGNOLIA TREE: Gone, but not forgotten

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log
The Destin Log

Although it may have still looked good from the outside, with the carved marine artwork covered in lacquer, the “magnificent magnolia” was dead on the inside.

“Even though you treat it and you do everything to try and make it last, cover it with lacquers and everything else, you can’t stop the tree from rotting from the inside out,” said Legendary Inc. owner Peter Bos. “The insurance company was very emphatic that the tree had to come down after that storm last week.

“The last thing we needed was for that tree to come down on top of somebody. And that staircase has a lot of people coming up and down,” he added.

The huge magnolia, which stood on the hill overlooking Destin harbor, was removed this week, but a cutting from the mother tree is alive and growing just yards away from where the mother once stood strong.

“The tree died several years ago,” Bos said.

According to local arboist Aubrey Santucci, manager of Coastline Tree Service, the tree had well outlived it’s life expectancy. She said most magnolia’s do not live past 120 years, but the Destin magnolia made it 172 years, despite years of salt air and being battered from storms and hurricanes.

But before it died, Bos said they were able to get some cuttings off the big magnolia to be planted at a later time.

In the meantime, the huge magnolia that was once a four-story tree that served as a landmark for boaters and fishermen at sea, was turned into a work of art. Martin Miller of Mobile, Alabama, used his chainsaw to carve everything from a blue heron, red snapper, dolphin, a diver, a turtle and other marine life into the tree in 2015.

“The tree itself was incredible,” Bos said. “I don’t know how many millions of photographs were taken ... but it was unbelievable.”

Bos said the tree was probably photographed “more so in death than it’s life. The tree was like a monument. So we did everything. We had no idea how popular or how important that tree was ... even after it died of natural causes.”

About a year ago, the tree lost its first branch.

“It came off and was literally rotted all the way through,” Bos said.

That episode resulted in a trimming of the tree where they had to cut off additional pieces, realizing that some of the thinner branches were becoming unstable.

But in recent weeks, the tree had become a liability.

“A couple of weeks ago we lost a major branch and fortunately nobody was there because it fell on stairs,” Bos said. “Finally it became a situation where the tree literally was coming down in pieces.”

At that point, Bos said they talked with the Kelly Trust, because the tree stood on their property and was important to them because of the heritage of the tree.

“Everybody recognized the tree had to come down, because there was no way to save it,” Bos said.

He said the storm that came through Destin last week weakened the tree even more. Once the tree came down Tuesday, Bos said they learned that termites had devoured virtually the entire root structure of the magnolia.

“I think we got very lucky,” Bos said. “Unbeknownst to us, right at ground level where the termites are ... there’s no tree left.

“The whole tree could have come down. We were worrying about branches, but we should have been worrying about the whole tree itself,” he said.

While Adams Tree Care was cutting down the magnolia on Tuesday they were able to save some of the artwork off the tree, such as the heron, eagle, some of the dolphins, the diver and several of the smaller fish.

Bos said the plan is to give some of these items to the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

“We welcome anything that helps to tell the story of Destin,” said Kathy Marler-Blue, executive director of the museum.

Local lore is that the city’s founding father, Capt. Leonard Destin, would tie his boat up to that magnolia during storms and hurricanes.

Although the huge magnolia is no more, it still lives on from the cutting that was taken a few years ago.

On Friday morning a celebration or christening of sorts was held at HarborWalk for the “baby tree.”

The baby tree is located about 20 yards to the west of where the mother tree stood.

"Our goal was to find a spot where it was high profile, where everybody could see it,“ Bos said.

All the monuments and plaques that were located near the original mother tree was will be moved to the new location.

“They are going to be modified with another plaque that’s going to refer to this as the baby of the main tree,” he said.

A plaque will be placed where the big magnolia once stood.

“I’m a big believer that people like to know the history of things ... so I think we’re going to do everything we can to bring attention to it and the past and the fact that there’s a future,” Bos said.