Calling it "a unique symbol for a unique community," Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann looked on as the latest attraction to Lehigh, a very tall double-headed Sabal Palm, also known as the Cabbage Palm, was planted at the "triangle" on the corner of Lee Boulevard and Homestead Road, in front of the Welcome to Lehigh sign.
Now motorists driving into Lehigh approaching the intersection on Lee Boulevard will be able to see an extremely rare tree. A double head Sabal Palm is thought to occur only once in 25,000 times in nature.
The transplanting occurred shortly after 1 p.m. on June 27.
The tall double-headed Sabal installed palm now towers up into the sky at the Lee Blvd. and Homestead Rd. intersection. Motorists can see the unusual tree as they approach Lehigh on Lee Blvd. MEL TOADVINE
This palm has two heads and is extremely rare, and in all my life in Lee County, I have only seen two others. They are accidents of nature, and scientists can only speculate as to how they occur," Mann said.
The tree is probably worth $5,000 if you bought it from a professional landscaper, he said.
But the county didn't have to pay anything and the residents of Lehigh didn't either because the tall Sabal Palm is a gift to the community.
Robert and Lisa Riefer who live at 1307 Maple Ave. N., said they wanted to donate the tree and called Mann's Fort Myers office to make the offer.
"I knew immediately a good place for that tree in Lehigh at the center of town where motorists are welcomed to Lehigh," Mann said.
County staff workers transplanted the tree from the Riefers' front yard with a large crane and brought it to the appointed site to be replanted. Both Robert and Lisa Riefer were on hand to watch the tree, some 40 to 50 feet high, be lowered down into a giant hole that had been dug to welcome the tree.
The transplanting went smoothly and Mann said he had asked county staff to make sure there were no lines or pipes underground at the planting site, and there weren't, he said.
The only other two unique double-headed Sabal Palms Commissioner Mann has seen are in Fort Myers and in Hendry County.
As you travel into Lehigh, you can see the towering palm with the two heads that appear as a "V" shape.
"I believe this unique symbol of Florida to be perfect for this unique community, and will be a special sight to be appreciated for years to come.
"And I am particularly pleased that our county staff is able to handle the replanting task within existing budget dollars already identified for roadway landscaping," Mann said.
Several people stopped and parked on a side street to see what was going on. In addition, there were several county employees on hand to complete the task. The transplanting didn't affect the flow of traffic.
One of those people walking by at the time of the planting was Nate Stout, a local certified public accountant and the treasurer of the East County Water Control District board of commissioners.
"That's really nice," Stout said, stretching his head way back to look up at the double heads of the palm. Also on hand were Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Bright and Assistant Director Inke Baker.
The palm's fresh prongs are still growing out and Mann said that with the proper watering, they will spread very fast. And with all the rain that Lehigh has received in the past few weeks, the tree should survive easily, Mann said.
As he looked around and pointed to Irondale Ave. and Homestead Rd. and the large number of Sabal Palms, he noted that none of them have double heads.
He said he thinks Sabals are able to be grown only in Southwest Florida rather than in parts in North and Central Florida.
The Sabal will be maintained by the county, Mann said.
"It's a great gift for Lehigh, something very unusual and a great sight for incoming motorists," Mann said.