Photo: Dirk Shadd, Tampa Bay Times

“The hot pink petals caught in the breeze over Coffee Pot Bayou, fluttering like snowflakes onto a lawn dotted with admirers. After all, it’s a great place to snap a pretty picture.

Over the last week and a half, a steady stream of people have made the annual pilgrimage to the giant pink trumpet tree at the corner of Coffee Pot Boulevard NE and 23rd Ave. NE, cell phones and tripods in hand. Cyclists and dog walkers pulled off the winding path that runs along the water. Cars and joggers took turns pausing in the middle of the brick boulevard to gawk.

For some, a selfie from across the street was plenty — the long grey branches extend tall and wide, like the two-story palace perched behind the tree. Others got face-to-face with the trunk, stepping onto a lawn blanketed with flecks of flower heads. The bold ones flopped right onto the grass.

The pink trumpet tree, perhaps Historic Old Northeast’s most famous plant, is in full bloom. Also known as the Tabebuia tree (pronounced ta-buh-BOO-ya, as in Tabebuia heterophylla), this plant has attracted its own fan club for decades.

But this year, neighbors have noticed more of a frenzy than ever. The theory is an increase in social media presence (hello, bloggers and influencers) has inspired a new generation of onlookers. Linda and Bob Dobbs moved into the century-old house behind the tree on the night of Valentine’s Day 2003. Stepping outside the next morning for a cup of coffee, they encountered the rosy petals for the first time. Nature’s housewarming present…

“It was a mystery,” Linda Dobbs said. “We’d moved from New Jersey, where it was sleet and snow. We were thinking that was paradise just to come outside in February. But to see that, that was like, ‘Oh my!’”

Based on old photos of the house and a chat with someone who grew up in the area, the couple estimate the tree’s current age to be between 80 and 90 years. Over the 16 years they lived in the house, the bloom became the highlight of their year.

Linda Dobbs brought one to Sunken Gardens, where she has volunteered for years. The couple donated another to the city, asking it to be planted at Crescent Lake Park. Over the years, hurricanes knocked down both.

Dobbs, a retired journalist, said she wrote her Northeast Journal piece to make her case for more Tabebuias around town.

“I just thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a whole line of them, and people could come from all over?” she said. “Forget the cherry blossom festival in D.C. You could come to Tabebuia festival in St. Petersburg in February! But they never took me up on it.”

The Dobbses, now in their 70s, downsized to a one-story house in 2019. They christened their yard with a sapling from the Tabebuia. A young tree can take six to eight years to grow flowers. Last year, a few emerged.

They’re still waiting for this year’s bloom…”

— Gabrielle Calise, Tampa Bay Times

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Citizens for a Scenic Florida