At Barton Springs, a Celebration of Life and a Final Goodbye to a Tree Named Flo
By Isabella McGovern
As the sun went down over Barton Springs Pool on Wednesday, dozens of people said goodbye to “Flo,” a 120-year-old pecan tree set to be cut down the next day.
“I think of Flo as a symbol of our love for trees and our love for nature and Mother Earth,” Austin arborist Don Gardner told the crowd. “We used to always be a lot more connected to trees than we are now, and I’m so happy to see those who still have some sense of that.”
Flo has leaned over Austin’s spring-fed pool since 1925, but the city’s parks department and tree experts determined it must go because of Kretzschmaria deusta, a root and trunk fungus known as brittle cinder that weakens trees and has no treatment.
The pecan tree has been supported by cables and a steel framework after a large trunk cavity was filled with concrete in the 1970s. The tree curves over the north side of the popular swimming hole, and
the parks department determined it could fall into the pool.
“The existing tree is not structurally sound resulting in imminent failure,” parks director Kimberly McNeeley wrote in a memo last week. “This creates a life and safety risk for the public and must be addressed in a timely manner.”
Environmental groups had urged the city to consider alternatives to felling the tree, and two protesters held signs and interrupted Wednesday night’s farewell event.
Save Our Springs executive director Bill Bunch displayed a sign saying, “Save Flo” and “Speak up for the trees.” He has argued that a metal support structure could keep Flo from posing a danger.
Gary Perez of the Native American Church opened Wednesday’s farewell celebration with a water offering to the pecan tree and surrounding area.
Gardner, who said he’s collaborated with the parks department for 40 years, honored park employees and organizations who have worked to preserve Barton Creek and the many green spaces of Austin. He also discussed the many photos of Flo that date from 1925 in the Chalberg Collection at the Austin History Center. The parks department has invited people to share their stories, memories and photos in an online archive.
Gardner urged people to honor Flo’s legacy by growing trees elsewhere.
“I don’t want to urge you to plant trees,” Gardner said. “I want to urge you to grow trees because here especially with the hotter, longer dry times that we have, you can’t just plant a tree… you really have to water trees and water them right.”
Valerie Tamburri, director of reforestation and lead arborist for Tree Folks, said planting trees now would improve Austin’s urban canopy for decades, providing shade and cleaner air.
Wednesday’s ceremony was “a little more emotional” than she expected it to be.
Tamburri said Flo was seen more as an “individual” than other trees in its distinct, unique location just below the main entrance to the iconic pool.
On Thursday, though, crews assembled to remove Flo forever.
“I am happy that we have the time to be able to say goodbye,” McNeeley told those gathered around the tree one last time Wednesday night.