Flo, the famous Barton Springs tree, has a fungus and must be removed. Photo courtesy City of Austin

Flo leans like graceful dancer, a leafy cascade of branches bent low over the edge of Barton Springs Pool.

The old Texas pecan tree has been dipping down the hillside since at least 1928, providing shade to bathers and gnarled beauty to the grounds of Austin’s favorite spring-fed pool.

But she’s sick, and on Sept. 14, crews will remove the long-leaning tree from the park. Before she goes, though, Flo is getting a grand send-off from the people – and city – who love her most.

A Celebration of Life for the beloved Barton Springs tree is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13. A water blessing is planned, along with time for her friends to say their farewells.

History of the beloved Barton Springs tree

Barton Springs Pool

Barton Springs makes a fine place to cool off on a hot summer day. You can see Flo at the center of this photo. Pam LeBlanc photo

Over the years, Flo has drawn a lot of attention. Photos from the 1920s show a nimble young Flo, her branches stretching toward the sky, in front of the original wooden bathhouse. By the late 1940s, after a limestone building had replaced the wooden bathhouse, part of Flo’s trunk was hollowing out. At some point, bricks were place in that cavity.

In the 1970s, crews replaced the bricks with a cement mixture, a practice now known to speed internal decay, according to the city’s website. At the time, crews also planted another pecan uphill of Flo to replace the canopy that eventually would be lost.

Through the years steel posts have been added to hold Flo steady. Cables also provide support. A fence was put up around the tree’s roots to reduce soil compaction from foot traffic.

A grim diagnosis for the Barton Springs tree

But this July, Austin Parks and Recreation Department staff noticed fungus at the base of the tree. They took a sample and sent it to a diagnostic lab at Texas A&M University for analysis. In August, the lab confirmed that the tree had Kretzschmaria deusta, or brittle cinder fungus.

There is no effective treatment for brittle cinder fungus, which feeds on live tissue. Healthy-looking trees can collapse under their own weight.

The city contracted with independent certified arborists for follow-up inspections and independent opinions. All four arborists recommended removing the tree due to safety concerns. A removal permit was issued.

If the tree came down naturally, it probably would damage the deck, parks officials say. And a roped off area around Flo prevents ADA access to the bathroom. The barriers extend into the pool, causing a sort of water traffic jam as lap swimmers try to get around the danger zone.

The city is collecting stories, memories, and photos of Flo. Share your remembrances at treestroies@austintexas.gov.


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