Yard Oddities in Old Northeast: Brazilian Floss Tree

One the corner of 10th Avenue North and 3rd Street stands a tree with a stocky trunk and limbs like flexed biceps curving up toward the sky. It almost begs to be climbed, but this tree is hardly welcoming. The trunk and branches are protected by rock-hard thorns. And not just a few thorns. The Brazilian floss silk tree wears an armor that keeps even a squirrel from exploring its limbs. 

The spiky branches are not for climbers!

It was planted about 25 years ago by Cynthia Serra and Allison Butler who came to St. Petersburg in 1990. They found the tree when it was little more than a stick at a nursery in Miami. Their bungalow had been owned by a golf pro and the yard was a literal putting green. (The house also boasts another Florida rarity – a basement.) When they decided to xeriscape their yard with Florida-native and Florida-friendly plants, the now-common practice was a curiosity. Indeed, their yard is full of curiosities. They often share seedlings and cuttings with neighbors who envy the dozens upon dozens of blooming plants, trees, and vines. 

Their Brazilian silk tree is notable because its late October bloom comes white, as opposed to the more common pink. The white blossoms are made more unique by the fact that the seeds from this silk tree have thus far only produced offspring with pink flowers. (A few of which can be found in neighboring yards.) 

The silk inside the large seeds the tree produces.

This tree is thriving in our climate. The only threat to it came when a cranky resident complained that it blocked their ability to see cross traffic at the stop sign. “A city truck pulled up and a crew jumped out with chainsaws. I stood between them and tree and refused to move,” Serra recalls. Fortunately, it was determined that the tree was nowhere near the line of sight and well within the city code for a tree in the right of way. 

In October, on your way to enjoying the neighborhood’s elaborate Halloween decorations, be sure to pass the tree in full bloom.

Got an Old Northeast oddity you’d like to share? Email Jon Kile at jgkile@gmail.com.