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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Son hopes St. Pete will purchase, preserve father’s rare plants

ST. PETERSBURG — Ulysses Alexander Young thought of his yard as an experimental garden.

For more than 40 years, the Tampa orthopedic surgeon and his wife, Bennie Young, explored remote jungles in Central and South America, Asia and Africa seeking rare palm trees and slow-growing cycads that they replanted on their 1.3-acre lot in South Tampa.

Through the decades, seedlings grew into tall palms and brightly colored cones emerged as vibrant centerpieces of the cycads. The Young yard resembled a tropical rainforest, the house surrounded by a thick growth of exotic plants, palm fronds dangling over the family pool.

Since Young died about 10 years ago, son Brad Young has cared for the garden. But he says he no longer can afford to keep the home and is hoping a deal to sell his father’s collection to St. Petersburg will keep it intact and save the plants, which include many rare species.

“I’ve got to save this collection,” Brad Young said. “It’s going to mean a lot to a lot of people that it’s not getting split up to a bunch of collectors.”

That also is the hope of the City Beautiful Commission, which is asking the St. Petersburg City Council to approve spending $300,000 to buy and move the cycads and some palms to the Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum and to Sunken Gardens.

Under the proposal, the city would pay $125,000 for the plants, and $137,000 to relocate them and add additional sidewalks for viewing. Project costs also include ongoing maintenance and security. The money would come from the city’s Weeki Wachee Fund, money the city has from the sale of land in Hernando County that is designated for parks and beautification.

Gizella Kopsick is already a favorite stop for many horticultural societies and last year received visitors from Europe, Africa and Japan. Adding Young’s cycads would make it even more of a draw for plant enthusiasts, said Phil Stager, past chairman of the commission.

Highlights of Young’s collection include a Cycas scratchleyana that Young acquired from seed from Papua New Guinea in the 1950s. Believed to be the only one in the continental United States, it probably would fetch $15,000 if sold to a collector, Stager said.

A stumpy looking cycad known as Encephalartos latifrons that takes roughly 15 years to seed is almost extinct in its native southern Africa. It is worth about $18,000.

Those and other rare cycads would be planted at Sunken Gardens where security is better, Stager said.

“It’s the best private collection in Florida,” Stager said “It’s a unique opportunity to acquire a collection like this at a very reasonable price.”

Purchases using Weeki Wachee money must be approved by the city council. The proposal is expected to come before the elected leaders in the next few weeks.

“It’s a lot of history and quite a collection,” said council member Bill Dudley. “I think it’s a good deal.”

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