Fate of iconic Lovers' Oak tree lies in hands of arborist

A renowned arborist will determine whether the tree is decaying and needs to be cut down, or it's safe to leave standing.

LAKELAND, Fla. (WTSP) -- It's a love tale, some say, hundreds of years in the making. Decades ago, two trees in Lakeland grew into one, becoming a popular spot in the city as far back as the 1930's.

Because of the two trees’ union, and because lovebirds used to hang out underneath it, it’s known as the Lovers’ Oak.

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The love story could be coming to an end soon. The city is trying to figure out if Lovers' Oak is dying and becoming dangerous. It has hired a Palm Harbor arborist named Joe Samnik to look inspect it.

“If there's a tree guru, it's this guy right here,” city spokesperson Kevin Cook said of Samnik.

Samnik and his team are using infrared, sonar and other technology. They'll be able to tell whether the tree's decaying or it's safe to leave standing.

“If this guy behind us, Joe Samnik, tells us it's saveable, we're going to do our best to save it,” Cook said.

Right now, the odds are stacked against it. This saga started last year, when a huge limb fell on a car. Two arborists determined it's dying and it has to go.

Then, the grandson of Publix's founder then offered to pay to maintain it. Plus, the tree survived Hurricane Irma, while other trees near it fell to the ground. That energized the people rallying to save it.

The story of Lovers’ Oak has made it an iconic landmark for people who live near it and people who just pass by.

“As long as I can remember, it's been here, and it's beautiful,” Alex Renna said.

She is holding onto hope that Lovers' Oak will endure this final test. She doesn’t want to see the tree go down, and with it, a piece of Lakeland history.

“If its heart is beating, let it live a while longer,” she said.

The city is paying more than $3,000 for the assessment. It already has money set aside for projects like this one.

The arborist should be done surveying today or tomorrow. He’ll release his full report in about a month.

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