The Baranoff Oak

People wonder if the Baranoff Oak, that still stands in Safety Harbor, was a sapling when Ponce De Leon arrived in Florida.

It’s the oldest living oak tree in Pinellas County. The oak is featured in the town’s business directory. The tree is asked about so often, Gina Bingham, a reference librarian at Safety Harbor Public Library, wrote a blog about it. She excitedly tells people all about the tree. A volunteer at the Safety Harbor Chamber or Commerce named Ginger Watson, received a picture of the Baranoff Oak as a gift from her sister in the mail.

Next to the tree, a plaque tells the reader a little bit of information about the Baranoff Oak. The tree may be 300 to 500 years old the plaque reads, but Bingham says it is anywhere from 200 to 500 years old.

“They’re not actually sure how old the tree is, people ask that all the time,” Bingham said.

The increasing number of questions about the Baranoff Oak has made the need for more information immediate.

“The tree is a fascination for everybody that comes into the area. It’s very iconic for Safety Harbor,” Bingham said.

It used to be known as the Safety Harbor Oak, but was renamed in 2004 in honor of Dr. Salem Baranoff. He was the owner of the spa and helped establish the first public library in Safety Harbor, Bingham said. Both are visible from the beautiful park surrounding the Baranoff Oak. Portraits of Baranoff hang in the Safety Harbor Public Library. The renaming of the tree also let the city register the Baranoff Oak with the Live Oak Society of the Louisiana Garden Club.

“The place where the tree is, is actually owned by UCITA Properties, Inc., so it’s corporately owned land. They entered into a partnership with the city in 2003 and they planned this passive park space around the oak, so that now it’s protected,” Bingham said.

The plans were created in May of 2003 and the park was completed in 2004.

Its impressive size, at 20 feet around, and age make it a big attraction for more than just the citizens and the visitors. A pencil artist, Stephen Malkoff draws for the National Register of Historic Trees. He’s earned the nickname “Tree Man” for his works. The Baranoff Oak was his subject in 2006 and prints of it, and other works, are available for purchase.

Citizens of Safety Harbor are also drawn to the Baranoff Oak’s beauty. Several residents won awards in the Safety Harbor Photo Contest. Lori Deah and Daniel Goodwin won awards with pictures of the Baranoff Oak in 2005. And a 12-year-old girl, Amber Krager, won the contest with a similar photo of the Oak.

Dee Dokumaci, the owner of Rose Garden Boutique in Safety Harbor, said the Baranoff Oak will always be a part of Safety Harbor. If the city contemplates cutting it down, Dokumaci says she thinks there would be big protests.

“We all would be out there,” she said.

“I hope they never, ever chop down that beautiful tree. I doubt they will, I doubt that. There’s a lot of changes that are taking place in Safety Harbor,” Dokumaci said.

While the people of Safety Harbor will go to great lengths to protect the Baranoff Oak, nothing can be done about mother nature. In addition to many years of history, the tree has weathered many great storms.

“It hasn’t been hit by lightning in awhile,” Bingham said.