Sep 11, 2023 - News

Removal of Barton Springs tree 'Flo' delayed

Labels show an infected pecan tree. Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center Chalberg Collection

A beloved Barton Springs Pool pecan tree that appears destined to get chainsawed has won a reprieve — for now.

What's happening: 'Flo,' as the tree leaning over the pool deck is affectionately known, has fallen victim to brittle cinder fungus.

  • Because the disease-causing fungus feeds on live tissue, it can cause otherwise healthy-looking trees to collapse under their own weight.

What they're saying: "After evaluating all options and public safety risk, the department sadly must remove the tree," department Chief Kimberly McNeeley wrote in a city memo on Friday.

  • "The department cares for more than 300,000 trees on developed parkland, but few have stood witness and been a part of our shared history as much as 'Flo' has."

The other side: Save Our Springs Alliance, the Austin environmental group helmed by Barton Springs regular Bill Bunch, sent out an action alert over the weekend asking its members to tell city officials "to reverse the decision to kill Flo."

  • "To our knowledge there is no record that Flo has hurt a single Barton Springs visitor over the last 120 years. Not one. Ever," per the email. "Yet, somehow, there is now an emergency to remove this 'dangerous' tree this week."

State of play: On Monday, city officials announced they would delay Flo's removal — as well as a ceremony honoring the tree — "while the department reviews additional considerations."

  • A Parks spokesperson did not respond to Axios' request for elaboration.
Bathers at Barton Springs Pool in the 1940s, with Flo, a leaning tree, in the background.
Flo, in full lean, in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center Chalberg Collection

Why it matters: All sorts of pool-goer traffic, including the Barton Springs' ADA-accessible path, passes directly under the tree.

Threat level: Flo could fall any time in next one to three years, per assessments by arborists.

The backstory: In July, Austin Parks and Recreation Department staff performed an inspection of Barton Springs Pool and noticed a fungal fruiting body at the base of the tree. A diagnostic lab confirmed the diagnosis.

  • Brittle cinder fungus, for which there are no known effective treatments, can cause trees to lose strength and crack.

Of note: City officials don't know how the tree got its nickname or how old it is — though through photographs they've determined that the tree has leaned over the pool deck since at least 1928.

How to participate: In very Austin fashion, the city is collecting stories, memories and photos about Flo.

What's next: The department will host a ceremony honoring Flo at 7pm Wednesday.

  • "The Celebration of Life will feature a water blessing and provide attendees with time to say farewell to this beloved old friend," per the city's memo.

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