Live Oak Basics

Southern Live Oaks are majestic trees that are emblems of the South. Known as Quercus virginiana, a live oak is often seen magnificently draped in Spanish moss. The lumber from the tree was used in the hull of the Famous USS Constitution. Yes, Old Ironsides is made of wood. Live oaks are currently appreciated for their wind firmness, adaptability to various soil types and tolerance to soil compaction and salt spray. (Yes, live oaks do great by the ocean.)

The name live oak comes from the fact that the evergreen oaks remain green and ‘live’ during the winter while other oaks lie dormant and leafless. They replace their leaves over a short period in the spring. It only lasts a few weeks. When given enough room to grow, their sweeping limbs will plunge to the ground before shooting upward. This creates an impressive array of branches.

Crowns of the largest southern live oaks can reach diameters of 150 feet. On average, however, the crown spread is 80 feet and the height is 50 feet. Branches usually stem from a single trunk, which grows 5 or 6 feet in diameter. The live oak produces sweet, tapered acorns. They are eaten by squirrels, mallards, sapsuckers, wild turkey, black bears and deer.

Generally fast growing trees, their growth rate slows with age. They can reach the maximum trunk diameter within 70 years. The oldest live oaks in the country are between several hundred to a thousand years old.

The live oak tree grows well in salty soils and in shade. This makes them great competitors against less tolerant trees. They cannot survive freezing temperatures so that’s why they’re a great Texas tree. The flowers of the live oak are small, brown and pollinated by the wind in the spring. The lovely acorns fall in the fall and feed lots of animals, as previously mentioned. Although live oaks are strong and so is their wood, it’s not used much for timber anymore. The biggest threats to live oaks come from pests and diseases such as wilt disease which is most prevalent in Texas.

Here are some fun live oak facts:

  • The live oak tree is the state tree of Virginia.
  • Live oaks start producing acorns when they’re about 20 years old.
  • Live oak trees can grow in forests, in front of buildings such as schools, parking lots, gardens, backyards and more.
  • Live oak trees also grow by oceans. They do great resisting the salt spray.

If you have a live oak tree, we will talk more about their care in a future article. You can always call us at 512-341-8888 for more information on live oaks. We’re happy to talk to you about it.