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Expensive palm trees pay a price

Four drivers have struck the $800 trees planted on Gulf Boulevard medians 10 months ago.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001

ST. PETE BEACH -- At what price, beauty?

City officials were thrilled about a year ago to receive new, Department of Transportation-approved, landscaped medians to break up the asphalt of Gulf Boulevard.

But 10 months and four car crashes later, the city is trying to come up with a way to make sure motorists see the pricey trees planted in the medians. Four motorists have struck the foxtail palms that are the focal point of the new landscaping.

Three of the trees couldn't be rescued.

"It costs us $800 every time we lose one of those," said Tami Nicholas, parks superintendent for St. Pete Beach.

The City Commission might spend $44,000 to $50,000 to add landscaping lights so the palms can be better seen at night. The trees also are tough to find around the state.

Because Gulf Boulevard is a state road, the DOT must approve the landscaping in St. Pete Beach's medians. Nicholas' plant suppliers have spent weeks scouring Florida for a palm that meets the DOT's standards for diameter and foliage.

While the City Commission was on the subject, Mayor Ward Friszolowski couldn't stop himself from asking whether the median palms are supposed to look so . . . er . . . scrawny. "Will they look better?" Friszolowski asked.

Besides the trees' mortality rate from cars, they also endured Hurricane Gordon last year shortly after they were planted, leaving their fronds limp and wounded. The palms still lack the buoyancy of more traditional palm trees.

"They've had a hard first 10 months of their life, but I expect them to improve," Nicholas said.

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