Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) in the Live Oak group
The deep South is noted for its majestic Live Oak (Quercus virginiana). Its name derives from the fact that its foliage is evergreen. It is grown widely throughout the South in large residential yards and in parks as specimen trees and along streets. Their handsome, thick branches are often draped with Spanish moss in many areas. Live Oaks tolerate salt spray along coastal areas and support a variety of wildlife wherever they grow.
Live Oaks are invariably described as massive. They grow on short, thick trunks reaching 40 to 60 feet tall at maturity. Their large canopy typically spreads nearly twice their height. The huge limbs of mature trees grow horizontally and are sometimes so heavy that they sweep the ground. Their growth rate is moderate, adding 2 to 2 1/2 feet of height a year when they are young, then slowing a bit as they age.
Live Oak foliage is evergreen except in the northernmost regions of its range. Live Oaks grow most successfully in the mild climate of the Deep South (zone 10). While they grow as far north as the Carolinas and along the coast into Virginia (zone 7), they are semi-deciduous in these areas. They prefer regions where winter temperatures do not dip lower than 10° F. Their thick spreading limbs are vulnerable to injury from ice storms in the marginal northern areas of their range.
Live Oaks are will tolerate some shade, but they appreciate sun. They are perfectly at home in sandy soil, and even very compacted soil as long as it is moist. Ideally, it should be on the acid side (pH 4.0 to 6.5).
Individual leaves are 1 1/4 to 3 inches long and up to 1 inch wide. Narrow and elongated with rounded tips, they have smooth edges and a yellowish vein down their centers. New yellowish green leaves emerge in mid-spring, turning shiny dark green on their upper surface, grayish-green and hairy beneath. As they mature, they replace the older leaves that yellow and fall. They have a leathery texture and often their edges curl under slightly.
Live Oaks produce male flowers called catkins that bloom in hanging clusters. Female flowers appear singly or in clusters of 1 to 5 where the leaves join the twigs. They give way over the growing season to dark brown, almost black acorns about ¾-inch long and fairly narrow. Their caps cover about 1/3 their length. They grow either alone or in groups of 3 to 5 on the twigs. The sweet nut within the acorns is coveted by songbirds, ground birds, small mammals like squirrels and chipmunks, and even deer.
Probably the ultimate southern shade tree. It also is grown widely as an avenue tree, set about 90' apart. Live Oak tolerates auto exhaust and forms stately "canopy roads" in southern cities.
The Live Oak is a huge and noble evergreen broad-leaf tree with large, spreading, nearly horizontal branches and thick, leathery, oval, dark green leaves. The bark is dark red-brown to gray and deeply furrowed, eventually becoming blocky. The flowers, typical of Oaks, are catkins that hang down 2-3". They appear in very early spring and dust the countryside with yellow pollen. Brownish-black acorns about an inch long mature in the autumn of the same year on the current season's twigs. The acorns are sweet and edible. Live Oaks are often festooned with Spanish moss, resurrection fern, and other epiphytes
Live Oak is a fast-growing, yet very long-lived tree. Its life is measured in centuries. The wood is very hard and strong. Dried Live Oak wood weighs 55 lbs. per cubic foot, making its wood among the heaviest of any tree in North America. There is no better wood for fuel or for charcoal cooking. During the hey-day of wooden sailing ships, the US navy bought large tracts of Live Oak for the exclusive use of the government's ship builders. The massive, durable arching limbs were sought for ship's ribs and knees. The Live Oak is the state tree of Georgia.