Affectionately nicknamed “Fred,” this sturdy but unexpected tree has grown and flourished in the roadbed of the Old Seven Mile Bridge. A welcome sight lifted the spirits of many weary Florida Keys locals returning home in the weeks after Hurricane Irma's Sept. 10, 2017 passage through the beloved island chain.
Fred, an Australian Pine, has rooted and grown out of the Old Seven Mile Bridge with no soil and exposed to the sun, salt water, and winds the Florida Keys are known for. It defies nature for Fred the tree to thrive in such conditions, which has become a symbol of surviving and growing in adversity. Fred is so popular, there is even a child's book dedicated to him, written by Leigh Guest.
According to a 2013 story in “Keys Weekly,” Fred may have sprouted from droppings of a passing bird or an osprey. And despite the apparent lack of friendly soil, the tree has grown tall and lush in the sun-seared, salt-swept landscape of the old bridge.
The weather-beaten span has long been closed to motorists (and even pedestrians). So Fred is “only reachable by parachute, jetpack or by scaling a 100-year-old pylon from a boat bobbing in the water more than 20 feet below the roadbed,” the story states.
A smaller tree just to the south has been dubbed “Fred Jr.” (though some people insist it’s Fred’s companion Wilma). In fact, defying natural logic, several bushes have also sprouted on the cracked pavement and somehow managed to thrive. For many Keys residents, they’ve become leafy mascots.
But Big Fred is the best known by far. During the December holidays, local elves decorate his habitat with lights — eliciting smiles and an upsurge of seasonal cheer in virtually everyone driving across the modern Seven Mile Bridge after dark.