Georgia State Tree
Live Oak (common name)
Quercus virginiana (scientific name)
The name live oak is applied to several species of oaks that are evergreen. For purposes of this article, "live oak" refers to the species virginiana, native to the southeastern coastal plain of the United States and the official tree of Georgia.
The wood of live oak is one of the heaviest of any North American tree. Live oak forms a broad and massive tree, often wider than it is high at maturity. It will thrive in almost any location and has superior wind resistance. Mistletoe, ball moss, and Spanish moss live in live oak. In the Deep South, live oak is often festooned with Spanish moss dangling from its branches, providing one of the most enduring images of the Old South.
This tree has simple, oval, evergreen leaves. Its small flowers hang in clusters. Acorns are oval-shaped and about an inch long.
Live oak is a shrubby to large and spreading, long-lived, nearly evergreen tree. It drops its leaves and grows new leaves within several weeks in the spring. Trees average 50 feet (15 m) in height and three to four feet (91-122 cm) in diameter, but but can reach 79 inches (200 cm) in diameter. The rounded crowns may span 150 feet (46 m) or more. Lower limbs sweep to the ground and then curve upward. Live oak growing at an angle of up to 45 degrees can still support a great mass of limbs. The small acorns are long and tapered. Trees usually have rounded clumps of ball moss or thick drapings of Spanish moss.
Height: 15-50 ft (4.6-15.25 m)
Diameter: 36-79 in (91-200 cm)
Bark: vertical grooves
Seed: oval, about 1 in (2.5 cm) long acorn, single or in clusters of up to 5
Leaves: leathery, 2-5 in (5-13 cm) long
Live oak is long-lived and fast-growing if soil conditions are good. It may live for centuries.
Live oak is common in maritime forests, as well as coastal and inland marshes. It thrives in the humid environment of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, sharing its habitat with a variety of mesquites and other oaks.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
Live oak acorns are an important food source for many birds and mammals, including northern bobwhite, Florida scrub jay, mallard, sapsucker, wild turkey, black bear, squirrel, and white-tailed deer. Because of fall germination, the acorns are not available for very long. Live oaks in Texas coastal prairies provide shade for wildlife and livestock and nesting sites for a variety of birds.
OTHER USES AND VALUES
Live oak wood is heavy and strong but is used little commercially. The tall, straight trunks of pines were once sought for ship masts, and the massive arching branches of the live oak were used for the curved ribs of a ship's hull. Live oak served this use in the construction of the U.S.S. Constitution, "Old Ironsides," though the ship's fame is connected more to the white oak used to plank its hull.
Because it warps and twists while drying, live oak lumber is rarely used for furniture.
Native Americans produced an oil comparable to olive oil from live oak acorns. It is believed that Native Americans used live oaks as trail markers by staking saplings down, causing them to grow at extreme angles.
Because live oak forms a low, wide-spreading crown, it is often used as a shade tree and an ornamental. Live oak wood makes an excellent cooking fuel.
Acorns are produced annually and often in great abundance. Dissemination is by gravity and, to a lesser extent, animals.
Small flowers are produced in the spring when new leaves are grown. Pollen is wind dispersed during the first 2 weeks in April. Acorns mature the following September and fall to the ground before December.
Live oak grows in moist to dry sites. It withstands occasional floods, but not constant saturation. It is resistant to salt spray and high soil salinity. Live oak grows best in well-drained, sandy soils and loams, but also grows in clay and gravelly soils.
Live oak occurs on the lower Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States. It is found in 13 states, from southeastern Virginia to Florida, including the Florida Keys, and west to southeastern Texas.
Click to enlarge an image
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: World Trade Press