After giving one of my tours last week, I was walking along Calle Ocho when I noticed that the scraggly, nearly dead tree in front of the McDonald’s was adorned with pieces of paper which were fluttering in the wind. Someone had attached baggage labels to the spindly branches of the tree, which had been planted just a few months ago but was slowly dying from lack of care.

I stopped to examine the labels, which had writing on them, in red magic marker.

“Love,” said one. “Respect,” said another. The tag with “Little Havana” on it also included a little heart, outlined in the red marker but filled in with the color blue.

Another asked: “Can we grow this? (Public art).”

YES!! I wanted to shout out loud.

“Do you know who did this?” I asked a nearby street vendor, in Spanish. Neither she nor the friend she was speaking with knew who was behind the mysterious adornment of the tree.

Maybe I will use the tree itself to send a message to the artist, I thought.

I also wanted to add new labels to the tree, like, “Please water me.”

Our poor Little Havana street trees: chopped down, leaning towards the sidewalk at 45 degree angles sometimes, “hat racked” or left to die from lack of care after they are planted.

When I saw this poor tree with its messages of hope dancing in the wind, I felt inspired and happy. Someone had noticed it, at least.

I hope that each tag can be a blessing for our street trees, that we might love, care for and respect them, as members of our community, Little Havana. They are living public art, even without labels attached.

Trees are living sculptures, their shadows the unexpected street art that marks the sidewalks each day with dark, cooling shadows in strokes, patches and lines. The grand curves of the gumbo limbo are as elegant as the curve of an artist’s model. The flirty flowering trees show off canopies accented in yellow, fuschia, pale pink or purple, or brilliant red.

Hear about the mysteries of the Ceiba tree on the Secrets of Little Havana tour.
Hear about the mysteries of the
Ceiba tree on the Secrets of Little Havana tour.

Our trees are theaters for birds in the midst of their mating dances and the music venue for their musical morning conversations. Little Havana’s palm trees sway their slim bodies to the choreography of the breeze, and every tree rustles differently in the warm Florida wind.

Our stoic black olive street trees, their fruit prized by our winged neighbors, tell neighborhood histories with the scars and markings on their trunks: names of lovers and nail holes from years of being used as the local sign post.

Neighborhood fruit trees like avocado, mango, papaya and sapodilla produce tasty, wrapped masterpieces. Edible stars grow from trees in our yards.

And the tall local ceibas look at us with their calm eyes as locals place offerings at their roots.

Can we grow this?

Can we nurture not only the public art as we may be familiar with it, but the trees that inspire us, shelter us, feed us and can move our spirits more powerfully than any painting on a wall?