A Tree Grows at Buckley’s

The original ceramic and plastic pots are visible at the bottom of the photos. The plant has adapted to horizontal growth along the rafters of the greenhouse. Photos by Durell Godfrey

Perhaps the rubber plant that Charles and Heidi Limonius acquired in 1964 to sell at Buckley’s, the shop they opened on Montauk Highway in East Hampton just east of the former bowling alley, would have been more restrained had it been adopted and taken to a private residence.

Mr. Limonius’s parents were immigrants, his father having come from Riga, a city in Latvia, his mother from Germany. They met in this country and, coming to East Hampton in the late 1950s, bought the Buckley’s business in 1960 on about an acre, and then a field of more than 14 acres on Long Lane to grow plants to sell at their shop.

Speaking with a visitor recently, Robert Limonius, one of their sons, said they also built a greenhouse and filled an empty corner of it with the rubber plant, ficus elastica, from Southeast Asia, which they expected to sell. 

At one point many years ago, a man whose name they remembered only as Spitz drove up in a Bentley and said he wanted to buy the plant for his parakeet. Apparently he wasn’t serious, and the plant wasn’t sold. 

Somehow, Mr. Limonius said, his parents forgot about the plant until they realized it had escaped its original pot. Its roots broke through its ceramic pot as well as an outer plastic one on the walkway through the greenhouse. Eventually, the main trunk, having grown vertically and reached the greenhouse roof, began to snake horizontally across the ceiling. Over the past 54 years, it has traveled at least 40 feet to the south. 

Rubber plants are often as tall as 50 feet and can grow to 100 feet in their native environment. They are, however, amenable to pruning and shaping.

Mr. Limonius, who owns the Buckley’s business with his brothers, Charles Limonius Jr. and Dennis Limonius, said that after Christmas every year he cuts all the side branches off what is now a tree. It is so big, he said, that he is no longer sure if the greenhouse holds it up or if the tree holds up the greenhouse. Suffice it to say, it has run amok.