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Austin delays removal of Flo, Barton Springs' century-old tree

A large leaning tree supported by a rope and metal rods.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Flo suffers from brittle cinder fungus, a deadly disease that causes otherwise healthy-looking trees to collapse.

Flo, Barton Springs' iconic leaning pecan tree, will live to see at least a few more days.

Just last week, Austin Parks and Recreation announced they would cut down the tree this Thursday because of Flo's deteriorating condition — but today the department said it will postpone Flo's removal while it "reviews additional considerations." A celebration of life, originally planned for Wednesday night, is also delayed.

Flo was diagnosed in August with brittle cinder fungus, or Kretzschmaria deusta, an incurable disease that could cause the tree to collapse under its own weight. Four arborists conducted inspections in the following months, and they all recommended removing the tree.

Austin Parks and Recreation hasn't said why it's decided to postpone Flo's removal or how long the delay could last. The department didn't immediately respond to KUT's request for comment.

Over the weekend, the Save Our Springs Alliance, an Austin-based environmental group, rallied its members to "help save Flo." SOS asked people to email the city and demand that Parks and Recreation delay the removal until the public has a chance to comment at the department's Sept. 25 board meeting.

"To our knowledge there is no record that Flo has hurt a single Barton Springs visitor over the last 120 years," SOS wrote on its website. "Yet, somehow, there is now an emergency to remove this 'dangerous' tree this week. It's simply not true; removing the tree without a public hearing would be irresponsible."

The arborists who inspected the tree estimated that Flo has a high chance of falling within one to five years.

"Put plainly, this tree’s trunk is entirely hollow and it therefore has an extremely high risk of failing, most likely when it is in leaf, which is the time of year when visitor traffic is highest at the pool, making the probability of part of it hitting someone also extremely high," arborist Guy LeBlanc wrote in his report on the tree. "The injuries could quite likely be fatal."

City Council Member Ryan Alter, whose district encompasses Barton Springs, said he requested an update on the condition of the tree at a meeting scheduled for Sept. 19. He said the Council will hear from experts on whether there is a way to "temporarily secure the tree so it won't fall on someone."

"There is no harm in us having a discussion with the public so that everyone feels like we explored every option because you can't replant it once you remove it," he said. "We all agree it won't survive for the long term. The only question is do we remove it now or do we put some mitigation in place so that we can remove it years down the road? But it's going to die."

KUT's Luz Moreno-Lozano contributed to this story.

Chelsey Zhu is the digital producer at KUT. Got a tip? You can email her at czhu@kut.org.
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