Winter Garden is home to hundreds of heritage trees — from oaks and sycamores to maples and crape myrtles — many of them more than a century old.
The Bloom & Grow Garden Society and city of Winter Garden pay tribute to 100 of these trees with the Winter Garden Heritage Tree Project, a tour of trees in the city nominated by members of the community.
Along the tour, folks can see such beauties as the yellow poinciana and pink trumpet tree on North Boyd Street, the sausage tree on East Story Road, the Laura Coar oak on Avalon Road and the Southern red cedar on East Plant Street.
To qualify, these trees either have trunks greater than 30 inches in diameter or are mature specimen trees that are uniquely characteristic of a particular species.
Garden club member Vickie Parrish and her husband, Wes Parrish, a professional horticulturist, visited each tree and its owner to take photos and document the name of the tree, its measurements and any additional interesting information.
The trees selected for the project are located all around Winter Garden, but 56 are part of a walking tour created in the historic district. Along the two-mile walk, participants can activate a QR code on a label to access more information about the tree as well as historic information and stories about its location.
Mary Zahl and Katy Moss Warner are the co-leaders on the project.
“It was our goal to have members nominate at least 100 trees,” Warner said. “It was our intent that this project would continue as long as people wanted to nominate heritage trees. We now have 102 trees in the PlantsMap.com data base. If someone wants to nominate a tree, they can go to the nomination form at BloomandGrow.club.”
Zahl grew up in Winter Garden and is familiar with many of the heritage trees’ locations.
“My favorite trees are the trees associated with a special part of Winter Garden's history and are named accordingly,” she said. “I love trees and have a passion for both preserving the great ones we have and for encouraging the planting of more of the best species of trees for our area. I was in charge of the “Made in the Shade” project in 2012, when we planted about 50 live oaks along North Lakeview Avenue, all the way to Lake Apopka.
“I believe the tree-lined streets in Winter Garden are the most pleasant ones,” Zahl said.
The tour travels north along Highland Avenue, where Zahl grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, and where many of the families who served in World War II or as city commissioners and mayors lived, she said.
“We couldn’t be prouder of all the participants, sponsors and trees,” Warner said. “When we started, Winter Garden Director of Parks and Recreation Laura Coar shared with us that she would like to see this tree inventory be unique to Winter Garden. The city has been a great partner in this project.”
One of the trees in the tour, located in Tucker Ranch, is named the Laura Coar oak. Another tree in the park, the Tucker Ranch oak, is Warner’s favorite.
“We (asked) the artist and sculptor Don Reynolds to draw this oak so that we might offer it as a signed and numbered print to all those who love Winter Garden and its trees,” she said. “These prints are for sale as a fundraiser for future elements of this project. We are hopeful that one day we can have a digital version of the map available.”
Each tree was identified, measured, mapped and photographed. The data then was input into a national data base, PlantsMap.com, that the public can access.
“This Winter Garden Heritage Tree Project is important because it can encourage residents and visitors alike to appreciate the trees in our community,” Warner said. “It can make them more knowledgeable and hopefully cause them to advocate for the trees and protect them — especially the big, old trees.”
“It … dove-tailed with our being a part of American in Bloom's Growing Vibrant Communities initiative,” Zahl said. “This program began with a round-table discussion of the leaders of Bloom & Grow in which we identified some of the areas where Bloom & Grow might get involved to further enhance the beautification of Winter Garden. 'Trees' emerged as a common theme.”
The club has produced a recommended tree list to encourage residents to plant trees that will thrive in the Central Florida climate. Because of the trees identified on the tour, people can see what a mature tree will look like before they choose a plant.
Warner and Zahl said they worked on the project for more than a year as a follow-up to the club’s “1,000 Trees for 1,000 Years” project in February 2020 when club members and volunteers participated in a mass planting of bald cypress trees at Tucker Ranch.
Bloom & Grow members hope the third phase of their tree series will be a post-pandemic planting of trees in the area.
“The project is important because it is a way of appreciating the trees we have, not only for their beauty and shade and variety, but because they reflect some of our heritage that we do not want to lose,” Zahl said. “We have an interesting town, far more interesting than one might assume, and our trees are one way of telling our story.”