Live Oak limb debris at Beachland Elementary.
The most outstanding specimens of native plants in Florida is the southern Live Oak and the Laurel Oak. Both oaks are magnificent shade trees. Because a primary human benefit is shade, it’s a shame to see so many of these beautiful trees have most of their branches removed and consequently their leaves, so that the tree is essentially stripped of what makes it so magnificent and beneficial to us and the natural environment we live in.
People may think it is necessary to strip the Live Oak lower branches to prevent it from uprooting in high winds or from dropping branches. This has not been proven scientifically[i]. The opposite is true and observable for the citizen scientist.
The fact is that southern Live oak and Laurel oak trees grow only where hurricanes occur[ii]. They do not need to be pruned to withstand strong winds. Their naturally spreading but rounded shape and thus low center of gravity helps them stay rooted to the ground [iii]. Their many leaves buffer their branches in wind.[iv]
Live Oak trees have thrived hundreds of years without pruning. Pruning increases the risk of losing branches or uprooting because the weight of the branches becomes distributed to the ends (lion’s tailing) and removing low branches (raising or over-lifting the canopy) makes the center of gravity higher in the air.[v] This is not natural for oak trees. Florida native Live Oak trees are not supposed to be pruned to look like an African baobab tree or Asian bonsai. Oaks have purpose–they are not a decorative tree. Oak trees must have a thick canopy of leaves for photosynthesis of sugar to survive. When leaves are few, the tree starves, becoming more susceptible to disease, decay and death.
There is a lot of money made by people who prune trees. The more of the tree they cut off, the more they can charge. If the person pruning your tree damages it, they also make money cutting the tree down and replacing it. You should know that people who prune trees are often untrained. There is no standardized training program for people who prune trees in Florida.
You may be shown a business card stating the person or company wanting to prune your trees has a license. That is false advertising. They may pay a business tax by the City or County but there is no penalty if the person does not pay this tax. Neither the City of Vero Beach, Indian River County nor the State of Florida licenses people who prune trees.
Even certified arborists are not licensed by the State of Florida, nor by any City or County in Florida. The certifying organization, the International Society of Arboriculture, has certification programs that do not require a high school education or even require any particular experience. Pruning trees is easy money due to lack of regulation and accountability. Also, tree pruning is a leading industry for illegal immigration and human trafficking[i] because of the demand, by you, for unskilled labor to prune your trees.
Florida’s native Live Oak trees have lots of leaves year round. Don’t prune the trees thinking their limbs should be bare in cooler months like trees in the North that drop all their leaves in Winter.
[i] Polaris (December 29, 2015) “Labor Trafficking in the Land of Opportunity”, Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/blog/2015/12/29/labor-trafficking-land-opportunity. UF IFAS is biased by its sponsors to keep turf and all its needed maintenance and trees severely pruned to grow turf underneath. Pruning for clearance or to remove branches damaged by wind is acceptable. But pruning of a native hardwood in a ritualistic, routine manner is unacceptable. Sufficient evidence is lacking to prove pruning trees prevents damage to them during wind event. Trees do best as they were before humans arrived and before pruning programs began in the 1980’s.
[i] Dahle, Gregory, PhD. “Scientific evidence lacking to prove thinning of the canopy of mature trees provides less wind resistance” , meta-analysis received by Katherine Booth, MS, August 31, 2018.
[ii] UF/IFAS map image: Range of Southern Live Oak
[iii] Florida Grades and Standards for Nursery Plants 2015; City of Vero Beach CHAPTER 72. – LANDSCAPING AND TREE PROTECTION.
[iv] Gilman, Edward, PhD., “Effects of Pruning on Trunk Movement in Wind”.
[v] Houser, Steven. (2019) “Over Pruning Trees”. Retrieved from https://www.arborilogical.com/articles/all-articles/article-repository/2012/july/over-pruning-trees
Narrative provided by:
Katherine Booth, Member
City of Vero Beach
Tree and Beautification Commission