In London 68,000 people had just died from the plague. In 25 years the Salem Witch Hunt would begin. The famous buccaneer, John Davis had burned the city of St. Augustine. In that same year, 1665, an acorn fell onto the ground in a place now coveted by people everywhere, especially the citizens of Safety Harbor, Florida.  Against all odds that acorn broke through its shell and drove down into the earth a miniscule root; a root so small as to be barely noticeable if observed at all.  With no irrigation, fertilizer, sprays or care whatsoever, the root became several roots and the top had a leaf or two.  The ensuing centuries brought floods, drought, fires, hurricanes, lightning strikes and other vicissitudes of weather.  Yet, the tree prevailed over all obstacles, insults, injuries and, more recently, people. That tree became the Baranoff Oak.

Fast forward to the year 2014; 350 years later. A consulting arborist with 47 years’ experience, Joe Samnik, and the past city arborist for Clearwater, Florida for 26 years, Alan Mayberry fell into a casual conversation.  Both had observed the great legend, the Baranoff Oak in decline.

Saving any tree in decline is questionable but a tree 350 years old was next to impossible. More to the point: impossible.  The two arborists decided that anything was worth a try; there was nothing to lose and everything to be gained and they developed a plan of action.  There were many obstacles in their way, the least of which was that the tree belonged to the city of Safety Harbor, Florida.

A field meeting was held with city staff present and the city could not have possibly been more cooperative.  They donated time, experienced irrigation staff, money to purchase over 100 yards of manufactured potting soils, a landscape architect, and equipment.

The A team of arboriculture was formed.  All participants donated their time, money and equipment in the effort to save the Living LegendIndependent Tree Service from Tampa, Florida provided the pruning.  Prime Environmental Services provided the soil replacement and treatment of the canopy. Wayne Smith came out of retirement to install lighting protection. Samnik & Ballard, Expert Tree Consultants, provided the specifications and the supervision of the work.

This was the first time that a tree this big was literally repotted.  The centuries old soil was removed from the roots and a manufactured potting soil was installed in place of the old dirt. The canopy was analyzed for nutrient deficiencies, it was known to the parts per million what nutrients were and were not in the tree’s system.  Soil tests were taken and from the species requirements and field test results a custom blended potting soil was manufactured for use in re-potting the Baranoff Oak.  Over 100 yards of soil were used in the effort, 80 bales of pine straw and over 100 gallons of nutrients were applied to the tree canopy.

One of the methods implemented for reversing the decline was extremely controversial and went against the grain of conventional wisdom in the field of arboriculture.  Samnik had applied this method successfully in the past; however, it was considered to be the number one thing to avoid when attempting to preserve a tree.

Samnik recalled the high water mark of uncertainty of the project when Mayberry commented under the tree, “Are you sure this is going to work Joe?”  The entire A Team, aware of the unconventional approach to reversing decline of a tree, held their collective breath as the days post treatment turned into weeks. The danger time zone had passed and the tree did not respond in a negative manner.

But would it respond in a positive manner?

Less than one year later the results were astonishing; nothing less than amazing. Places where people used to be able to walk along the sidewalk unencumbered now had to duck their heads in order to pass by. Branch growth and canopy growth were both exponential.  Foliage was a dark green in color. Birds were noticed to frequent under the tree due to the new organic soils. Post tissue tests were taken and all nutrients were found to be balanced. Life for the Living Legend is good.

During the year post treatment inspection, the care of the Baranoff Oak was turned over to a colleague and master arborist, Art Finn.  Art is the new arborist for the city of Safety Harbor.  The city could not have selected a better person for the job.

And, so, the Living Legend, the Baranoff Oak remains as the sentinel caring for a city and citizenry rich in history and steeped in their love of trees.

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