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Ever wonder who takes care of Gainesville’s Christmas tree?
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The holly tree at the corner of Academy and Green streets is lighted each year at Christmas on Green Street. Read more from the people who make sure the tree is in tip-top Christmas shape each year. Photo courtesy of Dale Jaeger.

Every year, Christmas on Green Street concludes with the lighting of a big tree in downtown Gainesville.

The tree at the fork of Academy and Green streets isn’t the type you’d expect for a Christmas celebration. It’s not a spruce, a fir or a pine — it’s a native American holly tree, otherwise known as Ilex opaca.

While the age of the tree is unknown, Dale Jaeger, landscape architect, said it’s been around for a long time.  

“It’s an extremely slow-growing tree,” she said. “So when you look at that trunk, you know because of the diameter that that’s a very old holly tree.”

Jaeger is also a member of the Rotary Club of Gainesville, the organization that, along with the city, gets the tree ready for Christmas.

“The city and the Rotary work together to get the lights put up,” she said, explaining that Rotary furnishes the lights while the city provides assistance with decorating.

The tree is strung with multi-colored LED lights each year and decorated with a star.
“It’s an all-day thing, but they usually get it done in one day,” she said. “They try to get it done as quick as they can.”

The Rotary Club also helps with officially lighting the tree, which it has done each year since the first ceremony in December 1982.

“It’s just a tradition,” Jaeger said, explaining the group tries to involve the community at the event.

She said the mayor of Gainesville is always invited to light the tree.

“If he can’t come occasionally a city commissioner will stand in (his) place,” she said. “They will count down from 10 to zero and then light the tree. And then we also sing carols.”

Rotary helps with the tree more than just at Christmas. They take care of it year-round and ensure it’s properly pruned.

“We’re on a two-year schedule now with it,” she said about the pruning. “We prune it basically in the dead of winter, which is the best time.”

She said they got on a regular maintenance schedule after the tree caught fire in 2009.

“During the summer, one whole side of the tree burned,” she said. “Thank goodness they were able to put it out. But the tree, for that reason, had lost its form and had been damaged. I’m a landscape architect, and when I realized the tree had had that damage, I suggested to the Rotary Club that we . . . have a more defined management, maintenance program for it.”

Since then, the holly tree has been pruned five times, and the Rotary is planning for a sixth time this coming winter.

“We got on that maintenance schedule just to keep it more healthy,” she said. “We use a woman who has a company called Fine Pruning, and her name is Anna Hauser.

“Pruning is an art. You can’t just take a set of shears and go out there and whack at a tree. You have to think about where each cut is and how that cut is made in terms of the branch and the health of the tree.”

And while the tree probably gets the most attention at Christmas, Jaeger said it’s used for other causes throughout the year, too.

“There are times during the year that various ribbons are put on the tree to recognize different community causes,” she said.

The holly tree will be lighted for the Christmas season 7 p.m. Dec. 2.

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