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The Branches of Memory.... The Southern Live Oak

By Jeannette Adams (adamsbydezignAugust 2, 2010
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Every childhood has one; the memories fade but never quite vanish whether you climbed it, built a tree house in it, or just had picnics and story time beneath it. Mine was a large Southern Live Oak with curled branches perfect for climbing or just laying with a good book on a hot summer afternoon. It had a leaf canopy that was thick enough in the height of the season that it nearly blocked out the spring rain showers that frequent the Florida Panhandle.

Gardening picture

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 17, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
 

The Southern Live Oak, (Quercus virginiana), does not tend to get exceptionally tall; on average, between 40 and 80 feet can be expected. It has spreading branches that reach between 60 and 100 feet. When leaves are young, the tree has olive-green foliage which changes to a glossy, darker green once they mature. It is primarily an evergreen; however, in the early spring leaves will drop and be replaced with new growth within a week or two. It can grow in moist to sandy, dry soil. The tree is very hardy and is resistant to fire. This is due to the fact that most forest fires do not reach the crown of the tree.

The Sounthern Live Oak is only recomended for USDA zone 7 and warmer according to the University of Florida Extension Office[2]. If one in a colder climate wanted a tree with this type of "evergreen" nature, the Oklahoma Live Oak, (Quercus virginiana var. fusiformis), is hardy up to zone 6, according to the USDA.

ImageThe Southern live oak is often found draped with Spanish moss or mistletoe. The live oak is strong enough to withstand the forces from the winds of a hurricane. It is tolerant to both flood and drought.

Live Oak produces very hard wood which is difficult to build with. Live oak was the preferred wood during the time when ships were built by hand. Lumber cut from the live oak tree was chosen due to its natural branch angles and trunk sturdiness used in the ships' framework. The red oak was often substituted, although it had greatly inferior strength than the live oak.

Many wild creatures love to partake of the Southern live oaks' acorns. A few of them are squirrels, deer, the endangered scrub jay, wood duck, turkey, and the black bear. Not only is this great old tree a source of food for many creatures, it is also a nesting place for a multitude of birds and squirrels.

ImageTransplanting a Southern live oak is not a difficult undertaking. It is preferable that transplants are placed in the ground when they are between two and four feet tall. Since the live oak lives so long, it is best to ensure that it stays well trimmed the first five years, allowing the trunk to strengthen before the branches are permitted to grow too large. Dead or decaying branches should be trimmed immediately and pruning should be performed every five years. Pruning should be performed when the tree is dormant and without signs of wilt. The live oak is dormant during the late summer months. Due to safety concerns, it is best to have a professional tree trimmer take care of the pruning when they have entered maturity.

You would be hard pressed to find a live oak without Spanish moss, (Tillandsia usneoides), draped over the limbs. Spanish moss growing on the tree is relatively harmless, if kept under control; the mistletoe that is occasionally found in trees is actually a parasite and should be removed if possible. A good way to accomplish this is to trim the branches from the tree once mistletoe has taken attached to them. Mistletoe can weaken the tree if it is permitted to continue to grow and spread on the tree.

ImageThe Southern live oak is an addition to your property that will last your lifetime and many more. No one has been able to determine exactly how long an oak tree can live. An example of the Southern live oak's long life span is the Angel Oak[2] in Charleston, South Carolina. It has survived earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, (including Hurricane Hugo), as well as unknown human interference. It is believed to be approximately 1,500 years old with a branch canopy of 17,000 square feet.

Planting a tree of this variety near your home can provide shade for comfort while helping save energy for the environment. Taking car e to consider the room neccessary for the branches to spread. It will also help to prevent erosion from minor flooding occurrences. Children and grandchildren alike will enjoy many years climbing amongst the branches of these trees.

The Southern live oak has been described as majestic and magnificent. It has been a constant in movies filmed in the south such as, "Forrest Gump" and "Sweet Home Alabama." One cannot truly see and experience southern life, in my opinion, without having spent some time beneath the gnarly branches of the Southern live oak on a warm afternoon.

Mature Height

40 - 80 feet

Mature Branch Span

60 -100 feet

Zone Hardiness

7 - 10

Leaf Size

2½ - 5 inches wide

Growth Rate

13-24 inches per year

Location Preference

Partial shade to full sun

Requirements

 

Average moisture

Life Span

Unknown length

Until we can climb together again...


[1] University of Florida IFAS Extension

[2] Wikipedia: Angel Oak

Additional information was garnered from the following websites:

UF/IFAS School of Forestry

Arbor Day Tree Guide

 

Photos are courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/

Thumbnail image is courtesy of mattbowen at http://www.morguefile.com/archive/?display=208750


  About Jeannette Adams  
Jeannette AdamsI am a mother,a wife, a daughter, a friend, a student, and a writer. I have two kids ages 6 boy and almost 2 girl they are the center of my universe. I have a wonderful husband. I live in Florida now but often long for my Tennessee home. I am true believer in you can go home again.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
nostalgic memories of live oaks annhelen 0 4 Aug 2, 2010 6:40 PM
southern oak daphnep 0 4 Aug 2, 2010 4:57 PM
Friendship Oak cindyr2 2 20 Aug 2, 2010 1:06 PM
Good for a tree swing sallyg 0 3 Aug 2, 2010 1:00 PM
Young Live Oaks Grow Quickly Canopy 0 9 Aug 2, 2010 11:57 AM
Hypatia10 oboecat 0 3 Aug 2, 2010 8:59 AM
Grammar (ewww!) Hypatia10 0 9 Aug 2, 2010 7:33 AM
Live Oaks mollylena 0 4 Aug 2, 2010 7:16 AM
Live oak or water oak? wormfood 3 37 Oct 27, 2008 12:52 PM
Live oaks vs. Hurricane Gustav BlissfulGarden 10 64 Oct 18, 2008 12:21 PM
shipbuilding irisMA 3 19 Oct 17, 2008 11:16 PM
Zone envy gardenwife 0 15 Oct 17, 2008 11:15 PM
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