Florida Keys

It's invasive and filled with bugs. It's also pretty, and now Key West's official tree

A Royal Poinciana tree blooms.
A Royal Poinciana tree blooms. Miami Herald File

What's invasive, notoriously messy and prone to termite infestations?

The new official tree of Key West: the Royal Poinciana, known for its fiery orange-red blooms that dapple across the island this time of year with their wide-spreading branches.

The Royal Poinciana has its problems and its detractors, but it also has a strong fan base in Key West, where locals and tourists enjoy its beauty.

"The Royal Poinciana is perfect for Key West," said local photographer Ralph De Palma. "It's one of the first trees that stunned me with its natural beauty."

"My parents loved this tree. My grandparents loved this tree," said Mayor Craig Cates, who presented the item to the City Commission on Tuesday night. "The whole idea is to preserve the tree and encourage people to replant this tree."

Cates said he knows hundreds of locals who support naming the Royal Poinciana Key West's official tree.

If the city continues its rate of replanting the tree, there are local children who will never get to see one, Cates added.

A couple of residents turned out at Tuesday's meeting to argue against making the Royal Poinciana an ambassador of Key West.

"You prune these trees and unlike most trees they are prone to get termites right where you prune them," said Robert Herndon, who opposed bestowing the tree with the honor.

"When the leaves drop off they make a big mess and the rest of the year it just looks like a tree," Herndon said.

Bob Bell said it makes more sense to choose the Spanish lime or sapodilla trees.

City Commissioner Richard Payne said the only criterion for choosing a tree should be its beauty and the Royal Poinciana's invasive species label shouldn't matter. The tree is native to Madagascar.

"Key West is an island of immigrants, both plant and animal," Payne said. "No other tree can compare in beauty to our Royal Poinciana trees."