Save the Australian Pines!

by Ken Ellis
October 6th, 1999 (updated February 10th, 2010)

My favorite Australian pine

Update: On February 3rd, 2010 my favorite
Australian Pine tree was cut down. See video below.

A few days before Christmas (1999), I decided to go to the beach. I went to South Beach Park in Boca Raton, Florida. I had been there hundreds of times before over the past 17 years I've lived in Boca. I loved to walk through the woodsy paths in the park. I'm not much for the hot Florida sun (afraid of skin cancer), so I like to walk the shady paths in the parks.

Yesterday, this was a beautiful tree

But this time, was different. I was appalled at what I saw! The beauty of South Beach Park had been destroyed - - destroyed by butchers with chain saws. They were cutting down the beautiful tall stately Australian pines. The shady paths I had loved to walk were no longer shady. Even in late December, the Florida sun sown down with a vengeance on the now naked paths.

After the chain-saw butchers!

I asked a Park Ranger why they were cutting down the Australian pines. He referred me to Park Headquarters. Immediately, I went to Park Headquarters. They informed me that the Australian Pines are a non-native exotic pest plant and that is why they are being removed. A discussion with several people there lead me to "the man in charge", Jeff Borick - Beach Parks Landscaping.

I called Mr. Borick (561-338-7376) and had a long conversation with him. He confirmed that the Australian pines which he called Casuarina are a non-native exotic pest plant which has invaded Florida (actually it was deliberately imported by the earlier settlers and developers of Florida). He said that Boca Raton is in the process of removing Australian pines as well as Brazilian peppers and several other exotic plants at the Beach Parks.

I asked Mr. Borick why the Australian pines were considered a pest and needed to be removed. His answer seemed vague to me. He referred to the Australian pines as a "cancer" that needed to be removed. He indicated that the needles that they drop on the ground seem to discourage other native plants from growing near by. He implied that the Australian pines spread and take over whole areas. I asked if they were being removed because they might blow over in a hurricane, but he said that was not one of the main reasons.

An Australian pine with "character"

I argued with Mr. Borick at length how the beauty of the Australian pines the shade they provided should be considered. He agreed they were beautiful and gave the park character, but they are an exotic pest and therefore they must go. He continued to refer to the Australian pines as a "cancer".

Australian pine providing shade on the beach

Clearly this man was determined to cut down all the beautiful Australian pines in Boca Raton's parks. I decided to concentrated my argument on one specific tree - - a huge Australian pine that sits on the top of the dune line giving shade to the beach in the afternoon. It is about a 200 yards south of the entrance to South Beach Park. It is the most stately tree in the whole park, with a very rustic character. Its trunk divides into three and one stretches out almost horizontally toward the beach. So many children play around the tree that the sand has been eroded away from its roots and you can actually see underneath the tree. But it is still healthy and growing. I often wondered why the Boca Raton Park Service didn't take better care of the tree and fill in the sand the people had pushed away. Many people enjoy setting their blankets or chairs in the shade of this tree and passing many peaceful hours.

You can see through under the roots
of this Australian pine

When I had visited the park, the "butchers" with their chain saws were just leaving for the day. They had just finished cutting down the Australian pines next to my favorite tree. I asked Mr. Borick if he could save this ONE tree. Thank God, he too believed that this one tree was worth saving and said that he had already arranged to save it.

The rustic beauty of an old
Australian pine

I was pleased that my favorite tree would be saved, but also saddened that so many Australian pines had already fallen and many more would fall in the future. Over the next several days, the fate of these defenseless trees began to haunt me. I could not get the slaughter of these trees out of my mind.

I found myself still awake at 5:00 in the morning thinking about the trees. Somehow, I was not convinced that these beautiful shade trees are the environmentally dangerous pest that Mr. Borick claimed. So, I decided to surf the Web and see what I could find on Australian pines - - and it was very interesting...

(try it for yourself, search Yahoo for +Australian +pine +Florida +parks )

The information I found on the Web all fit into one of two viewpoints: One viewpoint was various parks, beaches, communities, and resorts that proudly described their tall stately Australian pines with the wind whispering through them and shady picnic areas below. The other viewpoint was the exotic pest plant control "hate groups" that were out to "kill" all the Australian pines they could get their hands on. One such page stated proudly how they had cut down over 1200 Australian pines.

It seemed their main reason for getting rid of the Australian pines is that they are "non-native". If we follow that reasoning a little further, we should probably also get rid of the Haitians, the Cubans, the Canadians, and all the people from New Jersey - - they are all "non- native". But then so are ALL the people in Florida. My point is that being "non-native" is not necessarily bad. Non-natives add diversity and interest.

Someone wrote this on a sign near the area
where the Australian pines had been cut down

Much of Florida's native vegetation consists of short bushes that offer little in the way of shade. I suppose that is why founding fathers of Boca Raton and many other South Florida communities imported and planted the Australian pines. They loved them for the cooling shade they provide.

Australian pines providing shade for a picnic area

But I am afraid that the days of shade in Florida have been numbered by the non-native exotic pest plant control groups. Soon all of our Parks stripped naked, raped by the butchers with chain saws. Our parks will be completely bathed in the scorching Florida sun. There will be no more shady picnic tables, no more woods paths lined with trees, no more residential neighborhoods graced with the majestic beauty of the stately Australian pines. All this will be gone in the name of restoration, to restore the habitat of the "native" species.

Picnic table in the hot sun
i.e. when the Australian pines are gone

I wonder what the exotic pest plant control people will attack next? Will they attack beautiful show gardens that have carefully imported plants from all over the world? Will they tell them they must kill all their non-native plants?

A few days later, the fate of the Australian pines was bothering me so much that I decided to pay Mr. Borick (Boca Raton Landscaping Engineer) a personal visit. Mr. Borick and I talked for almost a half hour in his office. I found him to be a very reasonable man, interested in my opinions, and actually interested in some form of compromise. He suggested that we meet later that afternoon at South Beach Park to finish our discussion.

Mr. Borick and I met at South Beach and walked over a large area of the park, looking at Australian pines that had not yet been cut down. I pointed out to him the trees that I felt should be allowed to stay because of the shade they provided and because of their rustic beauty. Mr. Borick agreed that three Australian Pines on the dune line in the south half of the park would be saved. He said that he would tell the contractor (who was cutting down the trees) to save these. Mr. Borick also said others may resist saving these trees and asked if I would be willing to speak to others in defense of them should the need arise. I agreed.

Mr. Borick managed to convince me that the Australian pines on the dune line in the north half of the park had to come down. If they were left, they would encourage the re-growth of Brazilian pepper. Also none of these trees provided shade to areas people could access.

Another thing we discussed was the fact that many people crossed over the dune line where the Australian pines had been. Mr. Borick said that it is against the law to cross over the dune line except where there are boardwalks. I pointed out to him that South Beach only has three boardwalk crossings and that much of the parking lot is a long way from the nearest crossing. If there were more boardwalk crossings, maybe people would not walk across the dunes as much. Mr. Borick said that he would bring this point back to the people responsible for the boardwalks.

Next, we discussed the row of Australian pines along the west side of the park, adjacent to A1A. I suggested that these trees should be saved to provide shade for future picnic tables. Mr. Borick seemed to like this idea, but suggested that I discuss it with Joe Cogley, Boca Raton Park Superintendent (561-393-7813).

As we finished our discussion, I asked Mr. Borick if there were plans to cut down the Australian pines at Red Reef or Spanish River Parks. He said there were no plans at this time. I left our meeting feeling a little better. At least three Australian Pines would be saved in South Beach Park, including my favorite tree.

A couple days later, I called Joe Cogley, Park Superintendent and set up an appointment to discuss with him the possibility of saving additional Australian pines to provide shade for future picnic areas in South Beach Park.

I had a very good meeting with Mr. Cogley. He seemed much more interested in preserving the Australian Pines than had Mr. Borick. We had a lengthy discussion of the fate of Australian pines at all the Boca Raton beach parks: Spanish River, Red Reef, and South Beach. Mr. Cogley expressed an interest in preserving the Australian pines, especially in picnic areas. He said they were removing a few Australian pines that were damaged by lightning from Spanish River park, but he indicated there were currently no plans to remove any large number of Australian Pines from any of Boca's other beach parks.

After talking to Mr. Cogley, I felt much better about the current plight of the Australian pines in Boca Raton's beach parks. However, I'm afraid it is only a matter of time until another environmentalist will again decide that they are going to fix things by exterminating more Australian pines. Maybe it will be in Boca, or maybe it will be somewhere else. My hope is that this Web Page will make a few more people think about the beauty, character, and historical value of the Australian pine and possibly lead to preservation of more of these majestic trees.

I'll conclude this Web Page with a some of my thoughts concerning the Australian Pines:
  1. Aesthetic value:
  2. When adding or removing plants in Parks which are primarily intended for the enjoyment of people, it would seem that the enjoyment of the people should play a significant part in that decision. It seems clear to me that the Australian pine is enjoyed by most people. It provides shade which is in short supply in Florida. Few if any native plants can provide the shade of a mature Australian pine. The "needles" that the Australian pines drop make a perfect matting around picnic tables. Their rustic appearance adds character to the parks. And the wind blowing through their branches gives a soothing sound.

    A squirrel enjoying the ground cover of
    Australian pine needles

  3. Historical heritage:
  4. The Australian pine is a part of South Florida's historical heritage. It is a reminder of the people who first developed the Gold Coast area of Florida. I feel that some of this heritage needs to be preserved, even protected. And what better place to preserve heritage than in public parks?

  5. Where should Australian pines be removed first:
  6. If it really is necessary to remove Australian pines from South Florida, then there really are a lot of trees to be removed. Should we start by removing them from public Parks where they are being enjoyed or should we start by removing them from areas that are not used by people and where their removal will be less of an impact. I suggest that efforts be concentrated on first removing Australian pines in areas not used by the public and LAST removing them from the Parks. Actually, after all the Australian pines that are not in Parks have been removed, we should probably declare them an endangered species and preserve and protect the ones in the Parks.

  7. Taking over South Florida:
  8. The Australian pines that I am familiar with seem to have been "planted" rather than just spreading. As far as I know, they are propagated by roots, not birds carrying their seeds. Unlike the Brazilian pepper, I do not think that the Australian pine autonomously springs up in new areas where it has not been planted by people. Consequently, I do not see an isolated stand of Australian pines in a Park surrounded by developed land as a danger to any other area.

  9. "MAY" be allopathic:
  10. I have seen several statements that say Australian pines "MAY" be allopathic, that is, their needles or roots may give off a chemical that discourages other plants from growing nearby. If this is true, why hasn't anyone proven it. I don't think you can justify cutting down these trees because they "MAY" be allopathic. If indeed they really are allopathic, then this may be an advantage in public parks where they help to keep picnic areas clear of unwanted undergrowth.

  11. Out compete native species:
  12. Since the Australian pine is such a hearty species, highly tolerant of salt spray and the poor soils of beaches, it would seem to me that it would be particularly desirable to have them along the coast line where the salty conditions make it difficult for many plants to grow, especially close to the beach.

  13. Roots shallow and wash out easily:
  14. It seems to me that the roots of the Australian pine go much deeper and wider than any of the native plants and would therefore tend to hold the dunes in place better than the native plants. Even if an Australian pine is blown over, its roots would still help to protect the dunes from erosion.

  15. Wind break:
  16. Removal of the Australian pines from the beach areas will remove a wind break that is currently protecting the homes to the west.

  17. Disposing of the Australian pines
  18. The people who are currently cutting down the Australian pines in South Beach Park in Boca Raton, Florida are not making any effort to save or use the wood. They are using chain saws to cut the trees into about 2' chunks and then grinding them up to make mountains of mulch. They also seem to be leaving the stumps behind. It seems to me that the mulch and the stumps will be a breeding ground for termites and other insects and will soon draw rodents and snakes. I wonder if there would be some way that the wood of these trees could be put to better use.

  19. Replacing what has been destroyed
  20. After PAYING to cut down the Australian pines, Boca Raton will obviously have to plant something to replace them. That means that our Tax dollars will be spent to PAY to clear the land and prepare it for re-planting, PAY for nursery grown native Florida plants, PAY someone to plant them, PAY someone to put in a sprinkler system, PAY for the city drinking water used to keep the new plants alive, PAY for a fence to keep people away from the new plants, PAY to repair the fence and the sprinkler system when it is vandalized, and PAY replace the new plants again when they die. All of this is Tax dollars that could have been saved if they had just let the Australian pines live.

    The mature Australian pines have been replaced
    by PVC sprinkler pipes to water baby plants
    that will take years to mature.

By now you may be wondering why I have written this. What is the point? Well, the point is, I want to help save the Australian pines in our public parks but I don't know who to contact or what to do. Therefore, I have written this hoping that you too may care about the Australian pines and that maybe you may have an idea what can be done to protect these beautiful trees.

Since originally posting this web page, I have received a few EMails concerning the Australian pines. I thought I would add them below so you could see the thoughts of others. Some of these people agree with my viewpoint, others do not.


Thanks for the comprehensive Web site. There are a lot of us out here who appreciate the value of trees, and are concerned about how the loss of trees is affecting our planet.

I have a small request - have you got a picture of an Australian pine? If so, would it be possible for you to Email it to me as an attachment? Almost any format will do.

Many thanks,
Ian (UK)

(Note from the webmaster: I have now added pictures of the Australian pines to this web site.)

Hi Ken,

I've checked out your web page and I have a few comments. I'll state up front, not in the interest of being contentious but rather full disclosure, that I'm very glad the Australian Pines are being removed.

They are tough trees, tough enough to handle salt spray, immersion of their roots in brackish or salt water, and tough enough to grow on open sand and other soils poor in available nutrients. Because they are not indigenous to this part of the world, the suite of insects, fungi, and other organisms that would typically attack a tree at various stages in its life cycle are not found here.

This lack of "predators" (a horticultural advantage for the use of exotics in general) combined with extraordinary toughness thus gives the tree a great advantage over not most but nearly all of the native plants found in an area. The trees form tight stands along the shore, or in the Everglades, because they can. The diverse shore community typically found here cannot grow where one species is so dominant.

The trees have no analogue in the native shoreline community. In dominating the sunlight, in producing a thick carpet of litter, by laying out large, long-stretching woody roots, by throwing up a tall, wide windblock, they are not like native shore plants in habit or in scale. If they were similar to Sea Grape, say, native plants may be able to exist alongside them to some degree. This would not make them "better" overall, because they still have the advantages stated in the above paragraph. For example, the native Beachberry (Scaevola plumieri), is endangered in large part because its closely similar relative, the exotic Beach Napuka (Scaevola sericea), is widely used in shore and inland landscaping and is successfully out competing the native on every front.

In fact, some of the very worst invasive exotic plants, ones that may never be removed from native landscapes, have close relatives or ecological analogies in native plants. The Shoebutton Ardisia (Ardisia elliptica) is a relative of the native Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides), and the Umbrella Tree (Schefflera actinophylla) is a hemiepiphyte similar to the native Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea). Unfortunately, organisms that limit native species here are not typically successful when attacking a relative that comes from a different part of the world, tropical Asia or Australia in the examples above.

The trees may be allelopathic, that is, chemicals in their fallen "needles" or released by the roots may inhibit the growth of other plants. This is not specific to Australian Pines, it is found in many groups of plants, but it is not typical of plants found in shore communities, where growing conditions are difficult and salt/wind/soil tolerances segregate plant species more than intense competition.

A powerful exotic species dramatically decreases the diversity of a habitat. This is as true of the exotic Nile Perch in Lake Victoria, which has caused the extinction of scores of species of cichlid fish, as it is with Australian Pines in south Florida. The community that forms after the introduction does not collapse into death but is less rich in species, less rich in types of species, simpler in food web structure, and less able to adapt to the myriad conditions that occur continuously.

During large storms the sand beneath the shallow mat of roots formed by Australian Pines is washed out, the tall trees topple and form an immense woody jumble that does not resemble a native shore. Native shorelines survive hurricanes surprisingly well. If they are damaged the newly opened area is colonized in a clear set of successional stages composed of plants already present in various parts of the surrounding area.

The impacts on other types of organisms can be severe. Sea turtles nest with great difficulty on Australian Pine-laden beaches. Roots and toppled trees present barriers not encountered along most of a native shore.

A walk along the trails of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca, or John D. MacArthur State Park will show what a native south Florida shore community can be. It is unique in North America. The forest is rich and diverse. The trees provides shade and shelter, food for migrating birds. Many native wild flowers bloom year-round in the sunny areas. The community is healthy, vigorous, supports many different kinds of life, and recovers from hurricanes well. And it stays in place -- it does not start invading canal banks, lake shores, or the Everglades.

In southeast Florida the federal, state and local parks are the sole locations along the congested shoreline that have a chance of resembling the shoreline that covered the area less than eighty years ago. Given how much we have taken away, why insist that this tiny percentage of shoreline be otherwise?

Doug S. (Pompano Beach, FL)

Thank you for trying to save the Australian pine. It happens to be my favorite tree. I'm living in Connecticut now, but I was raised in Florida and I still consider it my home. When I was growing up I would sit under the tree that was close to my home and think or read. It seemed that those were the most peaceful times in my life.

Now that I'm older I remember more about them, the way the wind would whisper through the needles and the needles themselves, segmented and fun all by themselves. The coolness and serenity of just walking under them. It breaks my heart that stupid short sited people could have control over something so eternal and giving. I don't know just what you could do to stop the destruction, but I hope that if it works it will encompass all of Florida because the trees are one of the main reasons I want to come home.

Thank you,

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