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Southwest Florida is leading the way in urban canopy growth

Posted at 11:26 AM, Apr 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-25 11:26:28-04

NAPLES, Fla. — There is nothing like being out and enjoying the sunshine on a hot, sunny day in Southwest Florida. But what makes it more bearable is the trees and environment around us. In fact, Southwest Florida leads the way when it comes to urban canopy. Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley went to Naples Botanical Garden to learn the importance of such green space.

“From water quality to structural issues, plants are really great at doing the things that we need,” said Brian Galligan, the vice president of horticulture at Naples Botanical Garden –

32% of Southwest Florida is covered by urban tree canopy according to a recent report from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Between 2013 and 2021, Southwest Florida had an increase of 4,000 acres of urban canopy the largest net gain in the entire state, what Galligan calls a great buffer from storms.

“They say they come down in storms and smash things, but the reality is they are incredible buffers for beach erosion, for suppressing wind speeds around houses,” said Galligan. “If you don’t have a great buffer system of plants around, you are much more vulnerable.”

A healthy urban canopy also allows for better movement of animals through the landscape.

“A gated community affixed to natural system affixed to another gated community. If there is a great canopy wildlife moves through there,” said Galligan. “If we break down any one part of the chain of life if falls apart. We end up having to spray more. We have invasive pest outbreaks. If we leave nature the way it should be a little bit of love as well and input, nature will take care of itself.”

Naples Botanical Garden advises several cities in Southwest Florida on how to improve their canopy. But all of us can play a role.

“Starting smaller, putting in smaller trees. And stop saying I’ll never see the shade of that, because the reality is a smaller tree is way better suited to an urban environment than a big giant tree that is root pruned and reduced and jammed into an area,” said Galligan .“Let a plant really acclimate itself to that area and no time we have another green space in a paved parking lot.”

He says it's also important to have the right mix.

“The more biodiversity you can add to an area, not just one shrub that separates between your neighbor or the parking lot next to you,” said Galligan. “Having multiple layers of different species. And native and exotic alike. You can’t solve everything with just natives. There are other plants that fill niches, from being beautiful to providing wildlife habitat.”

And it's the urban green space that Southwest Florida has, that Galligan believes makes our area so attractive to residents.

“The Ferraris and Lambos and all are great too, but beautiful plants, palm trees, the wonderful feeling of ambience that good rigid canopy does for you is huge,” said Galligan.