The Lovers’ Oak is well worth preserving

I am writing concerning the Lovers’ Oak that has recently been deemed a dangerous tree and slated for removal. I have been the president at Bok Tower Gardens for the last 10 years, and prior to that was director of horticulture for 20 years. My knowledge of trees, tree health and arboriculture is based on my experience and study of plant pathology.

In the city of Lakeland there are many oak trees. In the recent Hurricane Irma, the overwhelming oak to break apart or uproot was the laurel oak. The laurel oak is prone to rot and the wood splits easily. Laurel oaks tends to live about 80 years then decline and fall apart. If branches are cut on a laurel oak, the stub rots and eventually that rot finds its way into the heart of the tree weakening the trunk and into the roots.

There are many hazard laurel oaks in the city. It would behoove the city to have a plan to assess and remove these oaks for hazard reduction. Homeowners should be educated as to identify laurel oaks and how they senesce. Many of the largest laurel oaks in the city are near the end of their life. A citywide plan to replace laurel oaks with live oaks will preserve the tree canopy of Lakeland for future generations.

The Lovers’ Oak is a live oak.

Live oaks are long-lived (some reaching 400 years to more than 500 years). The wood is rot resistant, it is the strongest and most dense of all oak species. The wood has long been used for ship building and was the wood used in the USS Constitution, aka “Old Ironsides.”

When limbs are cut or the tree is wounded, the dying wood will compartmentalize the rot so that it does not spread. The grain of the live oak is interlocking so it does not split easily. Live oaks resist breakage from wind better than any other hardwood. This is why they live so long in hurricane prone areas from Galveston to Cape Hatteras.

On Sept. 23 I inspected the Lovers’ Oak. After thoroughly going over the condition of the tree, I believe it to be in fit health. Hurricane Irma tested this oak. Numerous laurel oaks fell all around this live oak, which did not appear to lose any large limbs to the storm.

I noted damage to the tree from trucks hitting lower limbs, but there was new wood recovering this damage. Tall trucks should be banned from this section of Success Avenue. There were signs of past improper pruning with stubs of limbs left on the tree. The top growth on the uppermost branches of the tree indicate vigorous health. There was no visible root rot or wood splitting.

This could very well be one of the healthiest and finest tree specimens you have in the city and should be protected.

Even though the tree is actually two co-joined trees, the tree is sound and showed no sign of splitting or cracking. I would not hesitate to protect and preserve the Lovers’ Oak if it were in my garden. It is much less of a hazard than dozens of senescing laurel oaks in the area.

Inspection of the Lovers’ Oak most likely would have shown the failing limb before it fell several months ago. Funds used to cut and remove this iconic oak would be better spent on sound arboricultural evaluation and work for this tree so that it may live another 300 years.

I would recommend another professional opinion on the health and safety of this oak. A consultant that Bok Tower Gardens has used, and I can recommend, is Stan Rosenthal at Big Bend Forestry.

I would be happy to meet with any city official or provide any other information concerning this matter.