MIAMI BEACH (CBS4) – They have stood for 100 years along their namesake Pine Tree Drive on Miami Beach but their days may be numbered. The nearly 300 Australian Pines that fill the median along a 16 block stretch of the landmark roadway are “falling apart” from old age, and many if not all of them may have to be removed.
The trees that now stand 70 to 80 feet tall were planted in 1910 by John S. Collins – for whom famed Collins Avenue is named – as a windbreak to protect his avocado and mango groves. The groves have long since been replaced by homes and waterfront mansions, but the pine trees have endured long beyond their normal lifespan of 25 to 50 years.
“They are priceless,” said Charles Urstadt, Chairman of the Miami Design Preservation league, one of the groups and agencies that will be involved in planning the future of the historic roadway – historic only because of its geriatric pines.
“If I were King, I would replace the Australian Pines with new ones,” said Urstadt. That, however, would be against the law. The Australian Pine is an invasive species that multiplies rapidly, pushes out native growth and sucks up large volumes of water. It is designated a “prohibited species,” that is illegal to sell or plant in Miami-Dade County.
The county attempted to have the trees on Pine Tree Drive removed a decade ago, but preservationists fought back the effort by having the trees designated as historic landmarks.
“Now, Mother Nature is taking them from us,” Urstadt said.
“These are beautiful trees. They’ve provided amazing shade and really created an ambience for this street, so it would be a terrible loss to lose them.”
An expert who examined the trees for Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation board has concluded that about a third of them are suffering from decay of their roots and trunks. Increasingly, the trees and their limbs are falling.
“One fell over in a dead calm, no wind at all,” said Urstadt. “It is a safety issue now for motorists and pedestrians.”
Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board will begin discussions on possible solutions at a meeting next week.
Thomas Mooney, a design and preservation planner for the city, said there are numerous options.
“The board could decide to remove some of the trees and replace them with different varieties,” Mooney said. He said it’s also possible that an expert may be allowed to remove one or more of the trees to perform a “tree autopsy” to more precisely determine what condition they’re in. Whatever is decided would have to be ratified by the Miami Beach City Commission. Miami-Dade County would also have to be involved in the process, because Pine Tree Drive is a county road.
Urstadt said he hoped that while some of the trees may have to be removed, others could be maintained on “hospice” care.
Barry Eskanos, whose home faces the roadway, said he understands the concerns about safety but hopes a way can be found to salvage many of the pines.
“Instead of destroying the trees, maybe they could trim them back severely,” Eskanos said. “Get a skilled arborist in here to really take care of them, so maybe they wouldn’t have to go.”
The Historic Preservation Board meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday at 9 a.m. at Miami Beach city hall.