The Majestic OBX Live Oaks 

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The Majestic OBX Live Oaks 

Quercus virginiana, Quercus geminate

lov oak tree

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are home to perhaps the most majestic trees in the south. Whether you take a drive north up Highway 12, through Duck and Corolla, book a wild horse tour through Carova, or take a ferry ride south to Ocracoke, these magnificent majestic trees are everywhere.

Southern Live Oak

As early as 1556, the Spanish identified the uniqueness of the Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana, and felt that it represented a great deal of wealth for the shipbuilding industry. These trees were used extensively in the European and United States navies and in the commercial shipbuilding industry starting in the 1720s through the 1850s. In 1930 and again in 1970, live oak that was stored underwater by the United States Navy before the Civil War was used for repairs of the USS Constitution. In fact, great numbers of the large live oaks that exist today are stump sprouts from live oak trees harvested in the first half of the 19th century.

These trees can reach impressive sizes and are expected to live for 200 to 300 years. The largest southern live oaks have crowns that reach 150 feet in diameter. That’s nearly half of a football field! However, on average, the crown reaches 80 feet in diameter and the tree grows 50 feet tall. Usually, the branches stem from a single trunk that can grow up to 6’ in diameter. When they have adequate room to grow, their long arching limbs grow toward the ground before shooting upward creating a brilliant array of branches. 

Sand Live Oak

Sand Live Oak, Quercus geminata is a small, native, evergreen tree that also grows as a shrub. They are found in the sandy soils of hardwood forests, coastal dunes, mixed pine uplands, scrub, and sandhills along the coastal plain of SE North America. Sand Oaks are salt and drought tolerant and generally reach heights up to 50 feet. 

Landscapers and homeowners use this tree as a specimen or accent tree. Sand Oaks are an ideal choice for the stabilization of banks, slopes, and dunes due to their ability to form colonies. Fun Fact: 80% of a Sand Oaks biomass is underground so it will completely regrow after a fire burns it to the ground.

Biology

Unlike most oak trees, which are deciduous, live oaks are nearly evergreen. They replace their leaves over a short period of several weeks in the spring. During this time the leaves turn brown and fall to the ground. Don’t worry, within a few short days fresh new green leaves will emerge. It is possible for live oaks to shed at different times even if they are in close proximity. In the following picture, the live oak on the left is brown and shedding it’s leaves, while the tree on the right has finished shedding and is starting to grow new leaves.

2 Live oaks one shedding, one not

Live oaks and their acorns provide a lifeline to local wildlife. Various birds use them for shelter and nesting while others use the moss that frequently hangs from the branches to construct their nests. The acorns provide food for birds and mammals, including sapsuckers, wild turkeys, squirrels, black bears, and deer.

Watch the short video below for more on live oaks.

For additional information about live oaks or any other horticulture-related topics please contact Chris Blaha at  252-232-2262 or email ctblaha@ncsu.edu