Happy Birthday, Mamey! Key West Museum Holds Party For Champion Tree

Jun 5, 2019

Key West built a firehouse in 1908. A few years later, someone planted a mamey tree in the yard alongside it. Now that tree is now getting some special attention.

Alex Vega spent three years early in his career at Key West Firehouse No. 3, the site of that tree. He says the big mamey tree in the yard sometimes produced 30 of the football-shaped fruit and sometimes 300. But it was always shared around.

"Every watch got a bagful — two for you, one for your mother. They would give them out to their family and stuff," he said.

Vega is retired from the Key West Fire Department now, but he still hangs out at the old firehouse. It's now a museum. And the mamey tree in the yard is still producing.

On Saturday, June 8, the volunteers at the Key West Firehouse Museum are holding a 105th birthday party for the tree. That's their best guess for its age, because they know when it started fruiting and that usually takes 21 years, Vega said.

They'll be serving barbecue, along with mamey ice cream, made with fruit from the tree.

The story goes that the tree was brought to Key West from Cuba, either as a seed or young sapling. And like in Cuba, its fruit is a local favorite.

"Some people ate them raw, but we usually eat the milkshakes with them," Vega said. "They're really good in milkshakes."

The tree at the Key West Firehouse Museum is more than a local icon. It's the state champion mamey tree, the largest of its kind in Florida.

The party is planned for Saturday at the museum, 1026 Grinnell St. in Key West. The event starts at 4 p.m. with a barbecue. Admission is $12 and includes a plate of food and a beverage. Kids under 12 eat free. From 5:30 to 7 p.m., there will be free mamey ice cream to celebrate the tree's birthday.