This Royal Poinciana tree was planted by teacher Millie Campbell and her students at Palmetto Elementary School in Poinciana. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
POINCIANA – In a tent in front of Palmetto Elementary School, teacher Minnie Campbell had placed potted plants on each of the seats for the guests to take home with them.
As she addressed the crowd of people who showed up for the outdoor ceremony, now seated with the plants held in their laps, she said “I was going to give everybody some seedlings, but I couldn’t find that.”
Instead, she ordered the plants from Washington State. Everyone who attended the ceremony held at the elementary school on the Polk County side of Poinciana would be taking a plant home with them – for a very good reason, Campbell noted.
“Keep it kind of moist,” she told the crowd. “They do need a lot of water. Some of them take 30 to 90 days to generate, so don’t give up on it. Just keep it moist and keep it in a sunny location.”
And Campbell stressed that she hoped everyone would, in fact, not only nurture those small plants, but plant them on their property to grow, and grow, and grow.
If they do, she said, “What you will have is the Royal Poinciana tree,” she said. “We want everyone to grow a Poinciana tree.”
On Thursday, Palmetto Elementary held a special ceremony to plant six Royal Poinciana trees – an event done in part to mark the 40th anniversary of this community’s founding. The community is hosting three special events this year to mark that anniversary, with the first celebration coming up on Saturday, May 26 at Vance Harmon Park.
“That’s the first of three events,” said Jeanette Coughenour, manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages, the homeowners association for Poinciana’s 10 villages, and the sponsor of the events. “In October, we’ll have a Poinciana children’s event, and then we’re closing out the year with another celebration in December, right after the Poinciana Christmas parade.”
The tree planting ceremony was a part of that as well. This project has been spearheaded by two residents of Solivita, Fernando Valverde and Tom Gallagher, who want to build civic pride in the community by, among other things, introducing local residents and school children to some of Poinciana’s history.
The heritage of this community of 84,000 residents, that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties, dates back to the 1940s. Valverde has wanted to encourage local schools to teach children the song “Poinciana,” written by Henry Bernier and Nat Simon, and first used in the 1952 film “Dreamboat” and again in the 1995 movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” It’s become a standard, covered by such artists as Percy Faith, Vic Damone, Johnny Mathis, and the Four Freshmen. There are 864 versions of it on iTunes, and this song has been translated into Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
Valverde and Gallagher have also introduced an environmental lesson, courtesy of the Royal Poinciana, a tree brought to Central Florida from Madagascar, Africa by Henry Flagler, the developer of some of the earliest hotels built in St. Augustine. The Royal Poinciana tree was brought to the state because the developers needed trees to plant around the hotel properties.
Palmetto Elementary School held a special ceremony on Thursday to do both. First, the school brought out its students from kindergarten through fifth grade to sing “Poinciana” to the crowd, while the dual language classes also performed the song in sign language.
The students also displayed artwork they had created about the tree.
“We had all the grades, k through 5, and they all drew pictures of the Poinciana tree,” said Wendy Farrell, the vice president of the school’s Student Advisory Council. “The kids did a great job, and they really loved doing it.”
They also had Royal Poinciana trees waiting to be planted on the school grounds.
“We planted another one last year, and it grew by leaps and bounds,” Campbell said. “We’ve had a lot of fun taking care of this, and getting these things done.”
“We’re very proud of everything we do here at Palmetto Elementary,” said the school’s assistant principal, Jennifer Blackburn.
Gallagher said by planting those trees, he hopes the community takes pride in where they live.
‘’With Mr. Valverde, we were some of the founders of this project,” he said. “We started the project by discussing what Poinciana is as a community.”

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