Everything you ever wanted to know
about Live Oaks
Imagine a tranquill Southern landscape, and your mind’s eye will most likely envision Spanish Moss hanging from the branches of a great old Oak, the tree’s massive main branches spreading out in every direction above an expanse of lawn or pasture.
The tree that most perfectly fits this image is the majestic Live Oak, a species often characterized by almost horizontal main branches that can spread into a shade canopy of 100 feet or more in diameter.
The Live Oak is one of the most impressive trees in North America, and more than just a beautiful source of shade. The tree is also known for its particularly strong and dense wood, so much so that the United States Navy once maintained its own Live Oak forests. In fact, the first national land preserve was a Live Oak forest purchased in 1789 by the United States Navy. The Live Oak earned its place in Naval history as the lumber used to construct the USS Constitution, which became affectionately known as “Old Ironsides” after British cannonballs repeatedly bounced off the American frigate’s hull during the War of 1812. (1)
Oak trees are deciduous, broad-leaved trees that shed all their leaves during one season. Live Oaks can thrive in almost any location and have superior wind resistance. On the other hand, a Live Oak’s character will often change dramatically with location: On dry sites it may assume a dwarf form and in colder northern climates it drops its leaves in the fall like other broad-leaf trees. The best type of soil for a healthy and nutritious growth of deciduous trees is referred to as podzol (also spelled podsol). Live Oaks adapt to almost any soil, grow rapidly when young and often live to be centuries old. Typical mature sizes are 40 to 80 feet in height with an 80 foot spread.
A word or two about acorns
Sweet Live Oak acorns top the food preference list for birds such as wood ducks, wild turkeys, quail and jays, and mammals such as squirrels, raccoons and whitetail deer. Oak trees begin to produce acorns at about 20 years of age, but 50 years is not an unusual period for the first crop. Oak trees produce acorns once per year during the Fall. An individual tree’s acorn production varies year to year, with the strongest production normally alternating every other year. Late Spring frost can blight the flowers and stunt or prevent acorn development, and of course drought and insects can decimate crops. Acorn production typically increases over the long run, in proportion to the size of an individual tree’s canopy. An average 100-year old Oak will produce around 2,200 acorns per year.
Oh yes, we almost forgot the one acorn question you really wanted to know the answer to: Only 1 acorn in 10,000 will grow up to be an Oak tree.
Famous Live Oaks
Here in Florida, the “Cellon Oak” in LaCrosse, Alachua County, measures 30 feet in circumference and 85 feet tall, with a 160 foot average crown spread.
The “Seven Sisters Oak” in Lewisburg – Mandeville, Lousiana is believed to be the oldest North American Live Oak, measuring 37 feet, 2 inches in circumference with a crown spread of 150 feet. This great Oak is estimated to be over 1,000 years old.
Need a frame of reference? A crown spread of 150 feet or more is broad enough to cover half of a football field, including the sideline areas and the first few rows of seats on both sides of the field.
For the Scientifically Curious
Live Oak is the heaviest native hardwood, weighing 55 pounds per cubic foot when air dry. This mass density also made Live Oak the preferred wood to burn as fuel through the years.
Oak trees are members of the Beech family. The formal scientific name for the Oak genus is Quercus Lithocarpus. The Live Oak’s family tree (no pun intended) appears below:
Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Family: Fagaceae – Beech family
Genus: Quercus L. – Oak
Species: Quercus Virginiana P. Mill. – Live Oak
And just in case you were wondering, that strange, scientific-sounding name for the Live Oak species is pronounced: KWERKUS-us ver-jin-ee-AY-nuh.
Tree trivia, not necessarily about Live Oaks,
but still fascinating nonetheless
A notch in a tree remains at the same distance from the ground as the tree grows.
Quinine, one of the most important drugs known to man, is obtained from the dried bark of an evergreen tree native to South America.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the single-seeded fruit of the giant fan palm, or Lodoicea maldivica, can weigh 44 lbs. Commonly known as the double coconut or coco de mer, it is found in the wild only in the Seychelles Islands, off the coast of India.
James Markham obtained the first patent ever issued for a tree in 1932. The patent was for a peach tree.
Rice paper isn't made from rice but from a small tree which grows on the island of Formosa (Taiwan).
Tea was so expensive, when first imported into Europe during the early 17th century, that it was kept locked in wooden boxes.
The California Redwood, more correctly called the Giant Sequoia, is the tallest and largest living organism on Earth.
The oldest known living thing is not a giant Redwood, but rather a Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains of California, with an age estimated at 4,600 years.
The pineapple was a symbol of hospitality and welcome during the 18th and 19th centuries, which explains why one sees so many pineapple motif door knockers in New England. Seafarers of the era brought pineapples home as favored gifts.
Salicylic acid, derived from Willow bark, has been used as a pain remedy for over 2,500 years. The Greeks first discovered the bark’s therapeutic power. You probably know Salicylic acid better as aspirin.
The Rose family, in addition to the well known flower, includes apples, cherries, pears, plums, almonds, apricots and peaches.
Bamboo, which can reach 130 feet or more in height, is not a tree. It is actually the world’s tallest growing grass.
(1) During the USS Constitution’s battle engagement with HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812, an unidentified sailor reportedly exclaimed, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” after British cannonballs appeared to bounce off the American frigate’s thick wooden hull. The 18-pound British cannonballs were simply unable to penetrate Constitution’s hull, which reaches a thickness of 25 inches at the waterline. Her hull comprises three layers of Oak: Live Oak for the frames, or middle layer, and White Oak for the planking on either side of the Live Oak. The USS Constitution defeated four frigates of the mighty British navy during the War of 1812, including two in a single day, prompting the British Admiralty to issue an order that future one-on-one engagements with the Americans be avoided if at all possible. The USS Constitution, today permanently berthed in Boston Harbor, was launched on October 21, 1797 and—befitting her Live Oak framing—is the world’s oldest commissioned warship.
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