Residents Look to the Trees of Gulfport

Crea Starelk Egan of Artful Earthscapes, founder of nonprofit Eat Be Grow Sustain and the Gulfport Food Forest, demonstrates what a healthy root system looks like and how to properly plant a tree. 

Saturday morning, November 23, an eclectic group of concerned citizens gathered at the Gulfport Library to talk trees. 

Hosted by Crea Starelk Egan of Artful Earthscapes, founder of nonprofit Eat Be Grow Sustain and the Gulfport Food Forest, the event welcomed over 40 people into a small room at the library to discuss the importance of trees and their impact on the local community. 

A few months ago, Egan witnessed a healthy, 300-year-old oak tree removed from private property because the roots of the tree were growing into the foundation of a garage. This was the catalyst, Egan explained, for her to start an elder tree registration program to help protect the large trees in the community that have expansive benefits. 

After Egan’s anecdote many folks gasped, including John Boldender, local arborist since 1981 who stated “they could’ve just root pruned the tree.” 

“Exactly!” exclaimed Egan. “There are other options, but there was nothing I could do. They had a permit.”

Vice Mayor Paul Ray was among the seven panelists who passionately preached the importance of air quality and the benefits that trees provide. Ray said he has 43 trees in his own backyard. 

“Every time somebody turns around we’re cutting down another tree,” said Ray. “The problem is that most often people don’t replace those trees.”

According to Ray there is a $20,000 city tree budget that hasn’t been utilized since 2008. When a new project is planned, landscaping is part of the new construction budget. Ray believes that if one tree is cut down, one must replace it. 

“I want to push the city towards using the tree fund more,” said Ray. “For instance, during Arbor Day, plant more trees, purchase trees and then offer trees to people who want to put them in their yard.” 

Other panelists included Deb Hilbert and Dr. Andrew Koeser from the Urban Tree and Landscape Management lab at the University of Florida Gulf Coast Research Center. They shared educational resources on urban tree management, benefits and canopy cover assessments. 

Landscape Architect Topher Ross and Food Forest Specialist Koreen Brennon discussed the importance of keeping groups of trees together. Both explained that when trees are grouped together they are stronger and less likely to fall over and damage property during storms. Groups of trees, even of varying types, weather storms together and keep each other nurtured through their root network, they explained. 

Herman Trappman, local naturalist and Florida peoples historian, gave a presentation on Florida’s ever-changing landscape and native use of trees. To ensure trees have long, healthy lives, Trappman encourages tree owners to know their environment and plant accordingly.

One point that all the panelists agreed on was the importance of tree variety, which can help with disease control and insect infestation. 

With tree variety, it has been shown that if one species of tree is attacked by disease, the likelihood of losing a large percentage of the tree canopy is greatly reduced, according to several of the panelists. 

“We need to protect our forests, the quality of our lives, the air we breathe, the cooling of our environment and the peace that trees give out,” concluded Boldender. 

For more information on the Gulfport Elder Tree registry and how to become involved contact Crea Egan at

With the help of local arborist John Boldender, Gulfport resident Lisa Pineda Keblinskas and other community members, Egan replaces a fallen Mulberry tree with “Ugly Betty,” a mango tree behind the Gulfport Library. Ugly Betty is predicted to start fruiting in about three years. All are encouraged to stop by and help take care of Ugly Betty.


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