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Laurel oak irritates owner to death

SEMINOLE — The drama on Valencia Road ended quietly Monday with the roar of a chain saw and the thumps of falling wood.

Then on Wednesday morning, city workers returned to finish off the old laurel oak tree in front of David Marro's home, drilling down into what was left of its stump.

Marro, 68, was not unhappy.

"It tore up my driveway, ruined the paint job on my car, and broke my back raking up all the leaves," Marro said. "The tree was dangerous! It was a nice tree, but it was just dangerous."

Neighbor Lenah Robles held a different view.

"Oh, gosh, it was the healthiest looking tree you'd ever seen," said Robles, 54, who lives across the street from where the tree once stood. "We're just aggrieved. We're in mourning for the tree."

In this middle class cul-de-sac, the laurel oak was the tallest and most sprawling tree, its branches spread across rooftops and light poles.

While Robles and Marro spar playfully, one neighbor is reportedly so upset over the loss of the tree he has said nary a word to Marro.

"The truth is that the city of Seminole would not have known (about the tree) unless someone was calling them repeatedly," said Robles.

"You're right, you're right," Marro said.

The phone calls, Marro said, were prompted after large branches came crashing down in the night. By then, the tree's massive root system had begun pushing through the asphalt, revealing that half of the tentacles were on city property.

"That tree belonged in a forest," Marro told his neighbor.

She shrugged.

"This used to be a forest at some time, before man got into it and it became an asphalt jungle," she said. In the Panhandle, where Robles grew up, trees were left alone to die with dignity, she said.

Vice Mayor Tom Barnhorn said Marro did the right thing by reporting a tree that was in danger of falling down.

Adding to the confusion among neighbors is the fact that Marro recently had a new driveway put in to repair the punctured concrete that the old laurel's swollen roots had caused.

In the process, Marro's contractors sliced away half of the tree's dual root system, severely weakening the oak, according to an independent arborist's report.

The city's decision to tear down the tree came after the Dec. 11 report confirmed what Marro already suspected: The tree was dying. It had been infiltrated by the ganoderma fungus, commonly known as root rot. The report recommended the tree be torn down.

The arborist, Dale Williams, said in an interview that laurel oak trees with dual root systems have been a problem across Florida for years. They commonly are ripped out of the ground in severe weather. Williams added that in recent years a sturdier laurel oak with a single root system has been bred.

The laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia) is a relatively wimpy tree, its wood more suitable as firewood than fine furniture, Williams said. A 2006 study on the more majestic live oak (Quercus virginiana) by researchers at the University of Florida cited laurel oaks as a threat to the live oak. A Southern icon often covered in Spanish moss, the sturdier live oak was depicted in the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind, the report noted.

Moreover, laurel oaks kill more people in the South than any other tree, the study's authors said. "I wouldn't park my brand-new Saab underneath a laurel oak if I had one, whereas the live oak is a homeowner's best friend," Francis Putz, a UF botanist and one of the study's authors, wrote on the university's Web site.

Williams said the Valencia Road laurel oak was probably at the end of its lifespan, about 65 years, and that the decision to kill the tree was a last, but necessary, resort.

In an attempt to make peace, Barnhorn offered to personally deliver the arborist's report to any resident who asks for it. In the meantime, neighborly relations on Valencia Road are improving.

"Maybe I saved your house or your life," Marro told Robles after the city workers had come to remove the stump.

"I like trees better than houses," Robles quipped.

Marro offered to plant a new tree on his lawn. He'll make sure it's a sturdy variety. He may even name it after Robles.

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271. Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Laurel oak irritates owner to death 01/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 3:44pm]
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