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Live OakQuercus virginiana

  • Live Oak - Quercus virginiana

Often seen magnificently draped in Spanish moss, the live oak is the iconic tree of the South. It has been called one of the most impressive North American trees and can live to be hundreds of years old.

Its exceptionally strong wood was a key lumber in early navy vessels, including the famous USS Constitution. (Yes, 'Old Ironsides' was really made of wood.) Today it is a tree appreciated by arborists and city foresters for its wind firmness, adaptability to various soil types and tolerance to soil compaction and salt spray.


Hardiness Zones

The live oak can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 7–10. View Map

Tree Type

This is a shade tree, featuring a spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight.

Mature Size

The live oak grows to a height of 40–80' and a spread of 60–100' at maturity.

Growth Speed Medium Growth Rate

This tree grows at a medium rate, with height increases of 13–24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of 4 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The live oak is very adaptable—growing in acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained and clay soils. While it prefers normal moisture, the tree has some flood and drought tolerance.

Attributes

This tree:
  • Grows rapidly when young.
  • Can live for centuries.
  • Adapts to almost any type of soil.
  • Tolerates salt spray and compacted soil.
  • Works well as a street tree.
  • Has superior wind resistance.
  • Features leathery leaves that are 2–5" long and persist to the following spring, dropping when new leaves begin to unfurl. The leaves are a glossy, dark green on top with a paler underside that is often covered with fine down.
  • Drops its leaved in the fall near the northern climates.
  • Produces green acorns, approximately ¾" in length, which turn dark brown at maturity. They can be borne singly or in clusters of up to 5.
  • Assumes a dwarf form on drier sites.
  • Grows in a rounded shape.

Wildlife Value

Sweet live oak acorns are at the top of the food preference list for birds such as wood ducks, wild turkeys, quail and jays, and mammals such as squirrels, raccoons and white-tailed deer.

History/Lore

The live oak provides one of the most indelible images of the Old South. The huge branches of a live oak festooned with Spanish moss and spreading horizontally over grassy lawns conjure up images of antebellum plantations. The tree has long been a favorite not only for its beauty and shade but also for its strong and dense wood. It was once so valuable for wooden vessels that the Navy maintained its own live oak forests. The early Native Americans liked it too, extracting an oil from its sweet acorns that was something akin to modern olive oil. It earned its place in American history as some of the lumber used in the construction of the naval frigate USS Constitution, and when British cannon balls bounced off the hull during a battle, the vessel was thereafter known as "Old Ironsides."

It is the state tree of Georgia.