Feb 7, 2024 - News

Tree Hugger: The Cook pine, aka "fake cell phone tower trees"

On the left, a photo of a woman hugging a tall conical tree. On the right, a pair of the same tree growing toward each other.

Kathryn finally decided to actually hug a tree. The one on the left is off 54th Avenue N. in Lealman and the one on the right is on 26th Avenue S. in St. Pete. Photo: Courtesy of Megan Reeves and Kathryn Varn/Axios

Welcome to Tree Hugger, an occasional series about that cool tree in your neighborhood you wish you knew more about.

What's happening: Friend and fellow local journalist Rebecca Liebson wrote in asking if I could look into those trees "that literally look like the fake cell phone tower trees. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

State of play: That's one way to describe the Cook pine, University of Florida horticulturalist Alyssa Vinson told Axios.

  • The evergreen are scattered all over Pinellas and south Hillsborough, poking up from the tree line with their narrow, pointy tops.
  • They grow up to 80 feet tall, Vinson said — so tall, hurricane winds sometimes knock their tops off.

Zoom in: For years, I thought they were called Norfolk Island pines, which Vinson told me is a common mistake. They come from the same family and look similar, but the Cook's branches grow closer together.

How they got here: The trees are native to Australia and were brought to Florida in the 1950s as decorative plants.

Yes, but: They're not considered invasive, Vinson said. They don't have the same negative impacts on the native ecosystem as, say, Brazilian peppertrees or Australian pines.

The intreegue: If you've noticed Cook pines, you've probably also noticed that some appear like they're leaning to one side.

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