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Gritty Orphaned Palm Tree Gets New Home in Carrollton

The big Palm being transplanted at its new home, the Carrollton Rosemeade Rainforest Aquatic Complex.
Workers transplant the tremendous tree at its new home, the Carrollton Rosemeade Rainforest Aquatic Complex. There, it will be an instant landmark. 'I can imagine people dropping their kids off and saying, 'I'll pick you up by the big palm at 5,'' said Lorrie Dennis, the city's arborist. Photo by Kye R. Lee with The Dallas Morning News.

Published December 15, 2009 By JACQUIENLYNN FLOYD


There were a few dicey minutes when I lost heart Friday, when I thought the Division Street Palm, battered and road-weary, wasn't going to make it. Having personally killed maybe 10,000 living organisms at the houseplant level, I half expected its fronds to wither, its bark to peel away, its shaggy roots to dry up and croak. It was doomed to be just another casualty of highway construction.

Oh, me of little faith.

Bred in concrete, nursed on exhaust fumes and grown to maturity in a scorched-earth construction zone, this is not a tree that gives up easily. All it needed was a few friends.

Which it has, starting with Richard McMullen, an engineer who lives in Carrollton. In October, I wrote about McMullen's enduring affection for the exotic tree he had been watching for years.

He was fascinated by the tree's ability to flourish in its perfectly awful location: a highway embankment overlooking State Highway 360, right beside the Division Street Bridge, in Arlington.

It was the only tree - the only living green plant, for that matter - in an unlovely urban landscape of highways and road construction.

That column led to an explanation of the palm's peculiar siting. Several relatives of a musician now living in Mexico told me he was the tree's original patron: While bicycling in Arlington in 1995, he saw a little seedling tree fall off the back of a nursery truck.

Unable to carry it on his bike but reluctant to leave it to die, he scraped out a hole by the roadway, poked the little tree in and pedaled on his way.

The tough little tree held fast. It grew on a pile of roadwork detritus, asphalt, and broken concrete slabs, its roots feeling their way to the gummy dirt below.

I wrote about McMullen's love for the plucky tree, about his predawn drives from Carrollton to Arlington to water it during the summer, his fondness for taking friends to admire it. He was in despair that planned state road construction called for the tree to be destroyed.

As it turns out, the Division Street Palm (as it has been informally christened) had a little community of fans that had marveled and wondered about it over the years. Many of them wanted the tree saved.

Deliverance was offered by Carrollton city arborist Lorrie Dennis, a former Arlington resident who knew about the tree herself.

"I thought, if it was growing like that by the bridge, with no irrigation, with all that carbon monoxide, I wanted it," she said. "That tree wanted to live. It had a will."

Dennis had a perfect transplant site: Carrollton's city-owned swimming pool and water park at Rosemeade Parkway and Old Denton Road. The landscaping there already included smaller palms; the Division Street Palm would be a perfect landmark for the park's main entrance.

"I can imagine people dropping their kids off and saying, 'I'll pick you up by the big palm at 5,' " Dennis said - kind of like meeting under the clock at the Biltmore.

Dennis contacted yet another of the tree's scattered community of fans, Fort Worth landscape contractor Robert Hafkesbring. Robert and his brother, Rhett, who own the company Designs By Nature, volunteered their services, including equipment and manpower.

Friday, transplant day, did not have a palmly feel to it. It was wretchedly cold, and the wind was fierce.

But there was a merry feel to the proceedings. State highway contractors working at the site pitched in to help; TxDOT spokesman Val Lopez was there to take pictures.

"It was never our intention to see it killed," he said, perhaps anxious that the agency not be branded a lot of arboricidal Scrooges. "We're happy to help out."

They did, too, holding traffic at bay while the tree was lifted free with a front-end loader and transferred to a flatbed trailer.

It was massive: 121/2 feet in circumference, 26 feet tall, a weight Robert Hafkesbring estimated at 3 tons. There were layers of asphalt and chunks of concrete embedded in its root ball.

We had a little celebration of giddy, tree-loving fellowship. Construction workers stood on the massive trunk and had their pictures taken. A hard-hatted TxDOT employee grabbed one of the huge, fan-shaped dead fronds that had been pulled away and ran it over to his truck.

"I'm going to put it up in the field office!" he said, like a guy who had just gotten the game ball after the big playoff.

Turns out that was the easy part, though. The volunteers struggled for hours to maneuver the tree into place at the Carrollton water park, using a front-end loader and a seven-man crew, but the unwieldy tree kept toppling over.

"You don't think that'll hurt it, do you?" McMullen anxiously asked anyone who was nearby, as the overburdened loader tipped forward on two wheels and the heavy industrial strap bit into the tree's bark.

That's when my secret doubts surfaced.

But the city of Carrollton came to the rescue, dispatching a backhoe that was used to hold the tree upright while the loader pushed it into place. By Friday night, the Division Street Palm was upright, braced by temporary lumber supports, in its new home.

OK, for all you churlish types (Jeez, she's writing about that tree! Again!), it's alone, planted-in-the-wrong-place-by-accident palm tree.

But it's a palm tree with an astonishing ability to inspire the best in people, from that long-ago cyclist to the cheery city worker I found giving it a good root soak Monday morning.

And for Richard McMullen, a kind, gentle man whose quixotic obsession never wavered, it's a Christmas miracle.

It used to be a 40-minute drive to look at the tree he came to think of as his "old friend." Now it's a short walk from his front door.

"This Christmas, the Division Street Palm has a caring, permanent home," he wrote in a joyful mass e-mail to the tree's many supporters, "and will not be alone."

The previous article was published October 16, 2009 and is entitled "Engineer Rooting for Survival of Palm Tree Growing in Arlington Construction Zone."

About the author

Ms. Jacquielynn Floyd

Ms. Floyd is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News.

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