Royal palms bring a revival to U.S. 27

Royal palm trees are marking a time of renaissance in Clewiston as they adorn U.S. 27 through town. This development is a three-year-long endeavor, the U.S. Highway 27 Beautification Project.

Funding for the project was achieved through a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Highway Beautification Grant. In past Clewiston City Commission meetings, city utilities compliance manager and grant writer Lynne Mila explained that the budget was $101,700 for the design and irrigation of 101 royal palm trees. They are being planted in multiple phases, from San Diego Street to Olympia Street along the U.S 27 corridor. Currently, phase one and phase two have reached full installation.

Some citizens have expressed safety concerns about the royal palms’ relationship to traffic, as well as their costs for maintenance. Melanie McGahee, an advocate for the royal palms throughout the project’s development, affirms that the trees are self-shedding, at approximately one frond per month, and are the best palm variety for weathering storms. The FDOT has indicated there is no safety issue with the trees.

Special to The Clewiston News/Lisa Walker
Royal palm trees planted as part of city beautification efforts in the U.S. 27 corridor stand next to their graceful taller cousins in front of the historic Clewiston Inn.

Mayor Mali Gardner also notes that the FDOT approved the placement of the royal palms and will give back funding for maintenance costs. The best-serving examples in Clewiston of what the U.S 27 Beautification Project will grow into are the vigorous royal palm trees standing at heights of 50 to 80 feet on Central Avenue and Royal Palm Avenue.

To go beyond the royal palms’ aesthetic beauty, they are an enrichment to Clewiston’s bird sanctuary, serving as a habitat for nesting and a food source with flowers and fruit.

Additionally, the trees are native to Florida, happiest in full sun, are moderately drought-tolerant and grow faster than most palms.

Interestingly, the achievement of this project has also unveiled some historical roots, according to City Manager Al Perry.

A document from a 1975 City Commission meeting revealed a passed motion requested by the Clewiston Green Thumb Garden Club, represented by Claire Vaughn and Linda Hotchkiss. Coinciding directly with the project, the motion directed city staff to see to the planting of 200 royal palm trees along U.S. 27 between the sidewalks and street.

“It’s a mystery as to why the palm trees were never planted back then,” City Manager Perry said, “but it’s become honorable to see it happening now.”

Mayor Gardner added, “With the original stamp of approval from the Garden Club, it’s good to see their vision is finally coming to fruition.”

She and Commissioner Julio Rodriguez also noted at a recent commission meeting that that the city’s efforts to beautify its main drag through town seem to have rubbed off on several business owners, who have taken steps to spruce up their properties lining the U.S. 27 corridor.

The project is expected to be complete by the end of this year, with the last set of royal palms to be planted in October 2018.

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