Zephyrhills 100th Anniversary: The Camphor Tree

By Gregg, 28 January, 2010, 5 Comments

At 119, Zephyrhills’ signature Camphor tree is still remarkable.

In addition to water, parachutes, and friendliness, Zephyrhills has a signature tree-the Camphor tree, northeast of town. Doing some research at the Depot Museum recently, we discovered news coverage has been compiled about our signature camphor tree which majestically adorns the area.

Captain James Polk Renfroe, a Florida Pioneer who engineered the first railroad locomotive from Fernandina Beach in Tampa and whose descendants still live around Zephyrhills, planted the tree 119 years ago. Captain Renfroe brought his wife and three sons  to south Florida in 1881 from Blakshear, Ga. The family came first to Tampa near his railroad business and later moved to Plant City.

After he saw the hills of Pasco County, he and his wife decided to build their home near the small town of Richland. He ordered some trees and shrubs from Washington, D.C., and in the shipment was a small camphor tree (about 12 inches) which Mrs. Renfroe planted on March 3, 1890, the day before her daughter, Mrs. Agnes Roberts, was born.

The signature camphor tree

The signature camphor tree

In 1972, Zephyrhills News reporter Valerie Wickstrom said, “This camphor tree has the record of being the largest in the world. The girth of the trunk is 27 feet, 5 inches.” In 1972, the Pasco County Commission attempted to dedicate the tree as the ‘county tree.’ A Dec. 20, 1989 Tampa Tribune article reported the Zephyrhills camphor was then the second largest camphor tree in the United States. Stan Weston nominated the tree in 1971 for the National Forestry Association’s Listing of Big Trees in the U.S.A.

Capt. Renfroe was a hearty pioneer in Zephyrhills and one of the first to develop the land.  Samuel E. Nyce wrote in his Rise and Progress of Zephyrhills about his visit to Zephyrhills Colony on Nov. 23, 1911. In addition to a detailed description of what the town looked like with the old buildings of the Colony Company, Hennington’s Department Store and three Railroad houses, he talked of having dinner with Capt. Howard Jeffries and then taking an excursion to see a real ‘orange grove’ at Capt. Renfroe’s. He described it as the ‘turning point’ of a pioneers visit because it showed what could be done with the wilderness! (You can read the full account here)

He must have seen the camphor tree in its infancy. What a truly remarkable tree it is at 119 years of age!

What stories are out there about our camphor tree?

Countdown to Centennial

Countdown to Centennial
By Madonna Jervis Wise and Clereen Morrill Brunty of the 100th Anniversary Committee, ZHS. Article originally appeared in the Zephyrhills News on July 16, 2009.

All rights reserved. Photos © Madonna Jervis Wise

5 Responses {+}
  • george

    my camphor tree is bigger, in lake helen florida

  • Jean Hill

    Do you know where I can purchase a camphor tree? I bought one a few years ago from a nursery in Z-Hills, but they don’t cary them anymore. I love mine & want another one. Thank you in advance

  • Phil Bartling

    I saw camphor trees for sale at Wines Nursury in Ocala just yesterday, Jan 5,2011. I thought about buying one but see that they are an invasive tree and push out native trees.

  • Nick and Rainy | Sam Root Media

    [...] Yesterday I shot a couple of hours with Nick and Rainy for their engagement.  We made the drive up to Dade City Florida to do the shoot at Rainy’s mom. It just so happens the the property is a farm land that is the home of the 2nd largest Camphor tree in the Unites States. [...]

  • Penny Dodd

    The “official” second largest Camphor tree in the United States is located in Waldo, Florida and has been documented by the Florida Forestry Department.

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