How Do You Identify a Live Oak

liveoakidentifyYou know your live oak basics now, so how do you identify a live oak? It’s about more than noticing evergreen leaves and Spanish moss drapes. Live oaks, especially when young, can be confused easily for other types of trees. In this article, we’ll explore some areas you can look out for to help you identify a live oak.

Leaves

Live oak leaves grow along twigs usually. They are simply constructed. They are unlobed, stiff and leathery. They are elliptical or elongated-elliptical in shape with a wedge base. Live oaks are considered evergreen trees because leaves remain green and stay on the tree until after the new leaves sprout in the spring. Usually, the leaves are 1.5 to 4.5 inches long and ½ to 2 inches wide. The edge of the leaf is smooth or slightly wavy. The leaf edge is slightly curved under but not tightly rolled. The tip of the leaf is round and not bristled. Shape and size of live oak leaves are highly variable so they can be easily confused for another type of tree.  Live oak leaves are dark green on top and gray green underneath. The underside is covered with plant hairs. The main vein on the underside is yellowish in color. Side leaf veins cause slight depressions on the leaf’s upper surface.

Flowers

Live oak flowers tend to be wind-pollinated. There are both genders on the same tree, but each particular flower is a male or a female. Flowers are apparent from February to March for about two weeks. The male flowers are a light yellow and dangle about 2-3 inches down. Female flowers tend to be found on one 1-inch long, pale green spikes. They have a bright red coloration. Different forms of live oaks flower at different times. The flowers become sexually mature rather quickly. Stump and root sprouts are sexually mature and flower the year following expansion. Seedlings become sexually mature and flower about five years after germination. Full flower production does not occur for 7-12 years. Trees older than 100 years old usually do not generate as many female flowers as middle-aged trees with full crowns, although some flowering does continue to the end of life.

Acorns

This type of tree produces oblong, barrel-shaped acorns about ¾ to 1 inch long with a short point at the end. The acorns are held at the end of a long stem. They grow in clusters of up to five per clump with 2-3 per clump being a typical arrangement. The cap of the acorn looks like a bowl and covers 1/3 to ½ of the acorn. The cap also has thin, reddish-brown, hairy scales. Acorns mature by October to a dark blackish-brown. They fall by January. Live oak acorns don’t live long before decaying. It’s small but sweet tasting with a bitter after-taste. Relatively small animals love to eat these acorns because they’re easy to grab and catch.

Bark & Twigs

The bark of the live oak has a range of colors that are modified by exposure and surface growths. It can be dark-brown, greyish-brown or dark reddish-brown. Generally, it’s described as a medium brown. The bark has shallow furrows with flat, scaly ridges between them. It’s rough and divided into rough squares. It’s intermediate in thickness once the tree matures; however, when the tree is young, it’s thin. Twigs are stiff, slender and hairy. The pith is solid and continuous. Winter buds are blunt on the ends. They are about 1/16 inch long. Buds have chestnut brown scales with tiny white hairs at the margins. Young twigs can provide food for a number of animals.

Roots

The roots of the live oak tree system are wide-spreading and shallow. They require good drainage and plenty of oxygen. Unlike other trees, there’s no real relationship between root spread and crown spread in a live oak.  Live oaks generate roots running just below the soil surface coming from the stem base or from large branches permanently in steady contact with the soil surface. These roots can create new sprouts that grow around live oaks and are a good source for reproduction cuttings.  Live oak root systems are large and interconnected within and between trees.

Wood

A live oak has extremely dense and hard wood. It’s very strong and durable. Wood density values provide for a hot burning and high energy content fuelwood or charcoal. In the past, strength and durability of live oak wood prevented most hand powered sawing, and so planks were seldom generated. Historically hubs of wheels and machine cogs were hewed and carved from live oak. The most celebrated use of live oak wood was using the natural shape of branches and stems in building ribs and knees of wooden ship frames.

Now you know how to identify a live oak. Do you still have questions? If so, feel free to contact us at 512-341-8888.