Nature’s Reflections – Florida’s Live Oak
One of the most majestic trees of the South
The huge old Florida live oaks
draped in Spanish moss,
are among the most magnificently beautiful trees. Standing forty to fifty feet in height, they grow in a variety of soils. These long-lived, pest-free trees are among our most valuable and historic shade trees. The Spanish moss and resurrection ferns grow on live oak branches but are not harmful to the trees. Loved by some and disliked by others, these three plants have historically grown together in harmony.
Many of the largest live oaks are actually registered and thought to be more than two hundred years old. As a native hardwood, the live oak ranks the heaviest – weighing 55 pounds per cubic foot when air dry (75 pounds per cubic foot, fresh weight). These trees are known for their resistance to disease and incredible density. Periodic pruning helps to decrease the tremendous weight of the branches and keeps the tree from splitting under its own weight.
Today, the live oak is a prized shade tree. In past centuries, the trees were used to build naval ships. In 1828, the United States set aside 1,300 acres of land in the Florida Panhandle known as the Naval Live Oaks, which is now part of the National Park Service. Among the ships constructed from live oaks were the revolutionary privateer the Hancock, “Old Ironsides” herself – USS Constitution, and the USS Constellation, built in the 1790s. The wood was also used for: cart hubs, axles, screws and cogs of mill wheels, waterwheels and pilings. The wood is attractive for use as furniture or flooring, but proves to be too hard to work and finish easily.
When planting, leave a lot of room for growth. The key is not to plant them too close together, or in areas likely to suffer road, building or power line construction.
In January–February, live oaks shed their leaves when the old leaves are actually pushed off by the new growth. Acorns mature in September through October, average 390 per pound and germinate soon after falling. Acorns are favored by all kinds of wildlife and are of great nutritional value to many birds and mammals.
Column & photos
by Sandi Staton –