Trees of Mystery
One of the little-known yet prevailing mysteries of our area is the story of the long-leafed, yellow pine tree skeletons
Lighter-pine timbers provided the basic structure for Waldo Sexton’s famous creation, the Hall of Giants at McKee Botanical Garden.
In honor of our 20-year anniversary, we’ve pulled 12 favorite stories from our archives to share with you each month. This one is excerpted from an article about lightered trees, which appeared in our Winter 1998 issue.
One of the little-known yet prevailing mysteries of our area is the story of the tree skeletons, those bony remains of long-leafed yellow pine that used to crop up in many parts of Indian River County. If you have ever traveled west on State Road 60 or north on I-95, you may have noticed some of these “lightered” trees rising out of a palmetto head or punctuating a stand of living pines.
“Lighter pine,” “light wood,” “heart pine,” “fat pine” and “fat lightered” are a few of the names given to these rock-hard, silver-skinned remains of long-leafed yellow pine that dwell throughout the southeastern United States. They are found on some of Florida’s better sandy soils and can be generally distinguished from common slash pines by their more erect and solitary growth. Because of their durability and the fact that they may have stood for several lifetimes in a climate that is unkind to every sort of material, their existence takes on a dimension of mystery. The people who might have witnessed their birth are long gone, and skimpy oral accounts passed from one generation to the next are all that remain.
The ranch where I grew up, 8 miles west of Vero Beach, was contained within a boundary of lighter-pine fenceposts and barbed wire. I have grown to appreciate the significance of that boundary as I’ve watched the outside world change and the men who built those fences diminish and die. The landscape of the ranch has been one of the few constants in my life, and its appearance is much the same as when I was a child. Over the years I have grown familiar with every fencerow, cabbagehead and pond and can see in my mind’s eye every lightered tree on the ranch. They are such a paradox — delicate as white lace against the sky, yet brittle as a dinner plate. When they fall — a rare but momentous event — they often break into shards like a ceramic vessel.