It is a common practice in India to marry off a woman to a tree or an animal if she is 'cursed' astrologically, but one wouldn't expect something like that on the other side of the globe.
A woman by name Karen Cooper, who hails from the city of Fort Myers in Florida, US, willingly married a 100-year-old tree in a bid to save her beloved from getting chopped by the community it has shaded for more than a century now.
The giant ficus managed to become the pivot of a controversy in the Snell Family Park neighborhood when people started discussing the need for cutting it down last year. But Cooper wasn't letting go of the love of her life.
She went with wedding nuptials Saturday – complete with flowers, music and even a tree-decorated wedding cake. The ring bearer for the bizarre wedding ceremony was a precious canine, called Little Bear.
The tree is rooted on a city property, but some of its 8,000-square-foot canopy and root system extends over to a surrounding lot which has been put up for sale for $1 million. And last year, when the plot's prospective buyer Jeff Romer asked the city about his legal responsibilities to the tree, the controversy arose.
"All I was doing was my due diligence on the lot," he told the Fort Myers Beautification Advisory Board at its last meeting. "If I'm allowed to touch the tree, trim the tree, prune the tree ... because I don't want to be liable if the tree falls over onto the neighbor's house."
This was followed by a site visit by the city's public works department, who then notified the city's beautification board and approved the tree's removal. It was decided that $13,000 be spent on cutting down the looming ficus and replace it with smaller Geiger trees.
Soon as neighbors got wind of those plans, they began protests. From phone calls, posters, and fliers, the movement reached its heights with the recent wedding ceremony where Cooper and several other women dressed in white married the tree and vowed to protect and honor it, while some 50 people witnessed the ceremony.
"If they cut down this tree, I'm going to be a widow"
Cooper shared with News Press that she drew inspiration from women protesting deforestation in Mexico by marrying trees. "So I saw that and I thought, 'Oh we should marry the ficus tree — kind of giggle, giggle — but everyone said it's a really good idea, so I said, 'OK, let's do it.'"
Three days ahead of the Beautification Advisory Board meeting, the wedding was staged while the tree's fate was on the agenda.
Certified arborist Rick Joyce gave the tree a thorough checkup and determined that it's in perfect health and could withstand a regular pruning.
In an email, city spokeswoman Stephanie Schaffer wrote, "The City is moving forward to save the Snell Park ficus tree. Every day City employees care for the trees and plants that give our city a sense of community and shared history."
Despite the community's decision to back down from cutting the tree, Cooper believes its fate is still undecided.
"It's still not saved," she said. "It's still not decided, and that's what I don't understand. If the arborist says it can be trimmed and if Jeff Romer stood up at the last meeting and said I never asked for the tree to be cut down, and if we all in the neighborhood don't want it to, why are we still talking about cutting the tree down?"
Ward 5 Councilman Fred Burson was the only city official who attended the meeting and has vowed to help save the tree. "If we don't get it settled at the Beautification Board meeting, I'll take it to the City Council," he said.
But as for Cooper, the tree's fate is far more personal, than just greenery. She said: "If they cut down this tree, I'm going to be a widow."