Why you should care
Even the science behind these entwined limbs is sexy.
As if the city itself weren’t so damn romantic. As if its First Friday Art Walks didn’t include paintings of lush wine bottles and mysterious women. As if its sweaty love for its own historical claims of being the oldest European settlement in America weren’t already enticing. Finding myself on the self-obsessed beaches of St. Augustine, Florida, it was enough to make a young writer wax poetic — even after having been dumped recently.
One does not need heartbreak to find solace on the shoreline of balmy northern Florida, warm yet cooler than its southern neighbor, Miami. Romantics of all types can find something in St. Augustine, and some of those greatest somethings are the “love trees” — the almost magical entwining of two separate species of trees, growing in or around each other — that fill the ancient city.
Such trees are often deified in ancient mythology, spanning across cultures and religions, in tales like that of Baucis and Philemon, the elderly couple who were changed by the gods into an intertwining oak and linden upon their death. The science behind them is also intriguing. “Seeds get sprawled out by the wind, and they’ll land on the crevasses of the tree and plant themselves in it,” explains Renee Riso, a tour guide for the Love Tree Cottage, a quaint gift shop (outside is a hundred-year-old trellis where visitors can hang metallic hearts with their names carved into them for $7.99 a pop).
Perhaps the most impressive specimen is located near Prosperity Bank, where the trees are tightly wound together as if in constant dance.
The trees of St. Augustine have their own fables too, particularly concerning the oak and palm tree outside the cottage. As the story goes: A couple wanted to plant a tree in their front yard, but couldn’t decide which kind. The husband agreed to plant the palm tree his wife wanted, but tricked her and instead placed the palm seeds inside a live oak. “He had his laugh for many years,” Riso says, but one day, a sabalm palm, the state tree of Florida, suddenly jutted out from the top. The souls of the affectionate, if sometimes disagreeing, couple are said to rest in those leafy boughs, and if couples kiss below them they will stay together forever.
Of course, the legend has also lent itself to some cynicism over the years. Frustrated parents say that if you kiss your child on the cheek beneath the love trees, they will never move out. And don’t take your spouse behind the cottage to a tree that’s split in two — the guide cheekily calls this the “divorce” tree.
The most popular tree activity in town is a scavenger hunt, where you search the streets of St. Augustine for seven of the coupled trees. The Senator, found in the parking lot of the Howard Johnson hotel, has been core-tested at 600 years old, and stood when the conquistador Juan Ponce de León first discovered the Sunshine State. Perhaps the most impressive specimen is located near Prosperity Bank, where the trees are tightly wound together as if in constant dance. As is often the case, the joy is in the journey, not the destination itself. Even more than the kiss, being able to traipse through the Florida palms looking for love trees without bickering seems as sure a sign of eternal love as any, right?
Go there: The love tree scavenger hunt
Find love trees near or around these St. Augustine landmarks:
- The Love Tree Cottage at 6 Cordova Street
- The Howard Johnson hotel parking lot
- Bridge Street near the Catholic school
- The grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios
- 294 St. George Street
- Prosperity Bank
- The Council on Aging