Local officials believe it is a "champion" of trees; a Spanish lime with a 54-inch girth, as wide as a full-sized bed.
But the tree, fronting a 70-year-old Virginia Street cottage and believed the oldest Spanish lime in Key West, faces execution for the same reason.
As the tree's roots seek nutrition and water, they reach beneath the house while the trunk grows against it, placing property owner Glenn Stevenson between a root and a hard place, forcing him to seek permission to take the tree out.
The Key West Tree Commission has - with regrets - granted Stevenson the permit he seeks.
The homeowner, meanwhile, has explored alternatives to removal. But with an insurance company now threatening to cancel his homeowner's policy, he sees no other option.
"I have been a great custodian of the tree (10 years)," said Stevenson, owner of the Five Sixes Taxi company. "It has been a remarkable, emotional ride."
Stevenson did not seek publicity, but reluctantly agreed to discuss the dilemma with a reporter after the problem was discovered through a review of Key West Tree Commission actions.
Key West arborist Paul Williams is among city officials who have worked with Stevenson to come up with answers, but at this point, he too scratches his head.
"I wish there is something that could be done," he said. "Mr. Stevenson has tried exploring options. It's not like he doesn't like the tree. It's a matter of money. He would love to have the tree and the house but he can't do it himself."
Williams said the tree is healthy and still growing. "It can get bigger."
If a way to save the tree is found, Williams will seek to have it designated a Key West champion, meaning it would be officially recognized as the largest of its type in the city.
The Florida Division of Forestry designates champion trees within the state overall and the non-profit organization American Forests keeps a list of champion trees throughout the United States.
"With its size and dimension it is unusual to see one this big and that is where its value comes from," Williams said. "With the size of this tree, it could have been one of the first, or the last remaining of the Spanish limes brought to Key West prior to 1900. "
The tree - a male of the unisexual species - could well be the great-plus-grandfather of Spanish limes throughout Key West.
"Explorers may have brought the fruit with them and that is why you see Spanish limes on all the islands now," Williams said. "We are starting to see small ones all over the island."
No Spanish limes are designated as champions anywhere in the U.S. because they are not native, although the rules say the species could be "naturalized."
They are native to Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, and have since spread to the Keys and other portions of Florida warm enough to meet their environmental needs.
Stevenson knew the tree would be trouble in 2002, and sought permission to remove it then but the Tree Commission denied the request. Since then he has pruned and trimmed it, maintaining its health even as its roots and trunk invaded his living space.
Williams and other city workers familiar with the tree are hoping someone might come forward with an idea as to how the tree can be spared.
Prior to seeking permission for removal this year, after hearing from his insurance company and enduring property damage, Stevenson obtained an estimate for moving his house enough to delay a total takeover by the tree, which was just short of $40,000.
Permanent removal, at just under $10,000, is the cheaper option. As per Tree Commission order, Stevenson will also have to plant a new tree to replace the Spanish lime once it is felled.
"Even if you move the house there is no guarantee that the root system isn't going to keep growing, and in five years you would have to do the same thing," Stevenson said. "It's going to keep growing. The root system wasn't getting any room before. It does not remedy the problem."
The house, regulated by Key West's Historic Architectural Review Commission, has been given a green light for movement away from the tree, if that is what Stevenson decides to do. HARC members hope both the house and tree can be saved.
The application Stevenson filed with the Tree Commission included photos of places where the roots have encroached, including spots in the interior.
"I don't know where the bottom line of all of it is until we get the root system out and deal with what's left," said Stevenson. "If somebody who wanted to save the tree said you can sell your property I would consider it but they are not going to give me market value. And I had hoped to spend the rest of my life there, it is a great location."
Once the tree is removed - which for now is the only plan - Stevenson said he will miss its canopy. The house is located on a quiet dead-end block of similar homes where other trees in addition to the Spanish lime shield residents from the worst of the summer sun.
Even with the planned destruction of the tree, Stevenson said he has been checking with people who might make use of it after its demise. A date for the removal has not yet been established.
"I have talked to wood sculptors that might be interested in the wood," he said. "So that it wouldn't be just chipped up and tossed aside, or have an opportunity to have another life as furniture."
Anyone with suggestions for saving the tree is asked to call Williams at 305-809-3768.