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40-year-old, rare palm tree gets new home at Naples Botanical Garden

A natural Hurricane Irma survivor is getting a new chance at life.

A 40-year-old, rare, Cuban palm tree has been leaning against a Fort Myers home since the storm rolled through nearly 3 years ago.

“This is something special,” Liston Bochette said.

Bochette takes a lot of pride in his decades-old, Copernicia baileyana palm tree.

“It’s been over a year, went down, and Irma just leaned over,” Bochette said.

Bochette couldn’t get the leaning tree to take root again, so he found a way to give his beloved tree a new home.

“It’s the uniqueness of the palm,” he said. “It’s like when people can look at diamond rings and say, ‘Oh, that’s a special cut; this is a special cut diamond.’”

Bochette planted the tree himself with seeds he brought back from Cuba. Those seeds make his tree rare, one of only a handful in Southwest Florida.

“People know what you’ve got in your yard,” Bochette said. “This one was a landmark.”

Bochette’s palm is making its new home the Naples Botanical Garden, where its roots will grow deep once again.

“It’s a 20,000-pound palm, so there’s a lot of factors that are going to be in play,” said Brian Galligan, the vice president of horticulture at the garden.

“It’s no easy feat lifting a 35-foot-tall tree over other massive palms,” said.

“It took us a year for the professionals to rope it properly, feed it properly, get it through the winter,” Bochette said. “We were scheduled to move it before COVID, but everything went into lockdown. So we had to delay it again.”

Wednesday morning, all that planning paid off. It will have a new home where it will help preserve the species and allow for others to appreciate its beauty. Naples Botanical Garden said it hopes to pollinate the tree in order to keep the species alive.

“It’s like going off to college,” Bochette said. “It’s going to its new home.”

Editor’s note: Liston Bochette is a candidate for Fort Myers City Council.

Reporter:Gail Levy
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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