Quercus virginiana

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Southern live oak
FL Volusia Oak03.jpg
The Volusia Oak on the St. Johns River in Volusia, Florida.
NAS-012f Quercus virginiana.png
1812 illustration [1]
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Fagaceae
Genus: Quercus
Subgenus: Quercus subg. Quercus
Section: Quercus sect. Quercus
Series: Quercus ser. Virentes
Q. virginiana
Binomial name
Quercus virginiana
Quercus virginiana range map 1.png
Synonyms [3]

Quercus virginiana, also known as the southern live oak, is an evergreen oak tree native to the southeastern United States. Though many other species are loosely called live oak, the southern live oak is particularly iconic of the Old South. Many very large and old specimens of live oak can be found today in the deep southern United States. [4]

Evergreen plant that has leaves in all four seasons

In botany, an evergreen is a plant that has leaves throughout the year that are always green. This is true even if the plant retains its foliage only in warm climates, and contrasts with deciduous plants, which completely lose their foliage during the winter or dry season. There are many different kinds of evergreen plants, both trees and shrubs. Evergreens include:

Oak genus of plants

An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus of the beech family, Fagaceae. There are approximately 600 extant species of oaks. The common name "oak" also appears in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus, as well as in those of unrelated species such as Grevillea robusta and the Casuarinaceae (she-oaks). The genus Quercus is native to the Northern Hemisphere, and includes deciduous and evergreen species extending from cool temperate to tropical latitudes in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and North Africa. North America contains the largest number of oak species, with approximately 90 occurring in the United States, while Mexico has 160 species of which 109 are endemic. The second greatest center of oak diversity is China, which contains approximately 100 species.

Tree Perennial woody plant with elongated trunk

In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated stem, or trunk, supporting branches and leaves in most species. In some usages, the definition of a tree may be narrower, including only woody plants with secondary growth, plants that are usable as lumber or plants above a specified height. Trees are not a taxonomic group but include a variety of plant species that have independently evolved a woody trunk and branches as a way to tower above other plants to compete for sunlight. Trees tend to be long-lived, some reaching several thousand years old. In wider definitions, the taller palms, tree ferns, bananas, and bamboos are also trees. Trees have been in existence for 370 million years. It is estimated that there are just over 3 trillion mature trees in the world.



A large number of common names are used for this tree, including "Virginia live oak", "bay live oak", "scrub live oak", "plateau oak", "plateau live oak", "escarpment live oak", and (in Spanish) "roble". It is also often just called "live oak" within its native area, but the full name "southern live oak" helps to distinguish it from other live oaks, a general term for any evergreen species of oak. [5]

Spanish language Romance language

Spanish or Castilian is a Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain and today has hundreds of millions of native speakers in the Americas and Spain. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

Live oak Evergreen plants in the genus Quercus

Live oak or evergreen oak is any of a number of oaks in several different sections of the genus Quercus that share the characteristic of evergreen foliage. These oaks are not more closely related to each other than they are to other oaks.

This profusion of common names partly reflects an ongoing controversy about the classification of various live oaks, in particular its near relatives among the white oaks (Quercus subgenus Quercus, section Quercus). Some authors recognize as distinct species the forms others consider to be varieties of Quercus virginiana. Notably, the following two taxa, treated as species in the Flora of North America, are treated as varieties of southern live oak by the United States Forest Service: the escarpment live oak, Quercus fusiformis (Q. virginiana var. fusiformis) and the sand live oak, Quercus geminata (Q. virginiana var. geminata).

Subgenus taxonomic rank

In biology, a subgenus is a taxonomic rank directly below genus.

United States Forest Service federal forest and grassland administrators

The United States Forest Service (USFS) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that administers the nation's 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, which encompass 193 million acres (780,000 km2). Major divisions of the agency include the National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, Business Operations, and the Research and Development branch. Managing approximately 25% of federal lands, it is the only major national land agency that is outside the U.S. Department of the Interior.

<i>Quercus fusiformis</i> species of plant

Quercus fusiformis, commonly known as escarpment live oak, plateau live oak, or plateau oak, is an evergreen or nearly evergreen tree. Its native range includes the Quartz Mountains and Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma, through Texas, to the Mexican states of Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo León.

Matters are further complicated by southern live oaks hybridizing with both of the above two species, and also with the dwarf live oak (Q. minima), swamp white oak (Q. bicolor), Durand oak (Q. durandii), overcup oak (Q. lyrata), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), and post oak (Q. stellata).

Hybrid (biology) offspring of cross-species reproduction

In biology, a hybrid is the offspring resulting from combining the qualities of two organisms of different breeds, varieties, species or genera through sexual reproduction. Hybrids are not always intermediates between their parents, but can show hybrid vigour, sometimes growing larger or taller than either parent. The concept of a hybrid is interpreted differently in animal and plant breeding, where there is interest in the individual parentage. In genetics, attention is focused on the numbers of chromosomes. In taxonomy, a key question is how closely related the parent species are.


Live oak can be found in the wild growing and reproducing on the lower coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico and lower East Coast of the United States. Its native range begins in southeast Virginia, and then continues south in a narrow band along the coast to the interior South Carolina coast, where its range begins to expand farther inland. The range of live oak continues to expand inland as it moves south, growing across southern Georgia and covering all of Florida south to the northernmost Florida Keys. Live oak grows along the Florida panhandle to Mobile Bay, then westward across the southernmost two tiers of counties in Mississippi. Live oak grows across the southern third of Louisiana, except for some barrier islands and scattered parts of the most southern parishes. Live oak’s range continues into Texas and narrows to hug the coast until just past Port Lavaca, Texas. [6] The species reaches its northwestern limit in the granite massifs and canyons in Southwestern Oklahoma, a rare remnant from the last glaciation.

Gulf of Mexico An Atlantic Ocean basin extending into southern North America

The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. The U.S. states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida border the Gulf on the north, which are often referred to as the "Third Coast", in comparison with the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

East Coast of the United States Coastline in the United States

The East Coast of the United States, also known as the Eastern Seaboard, the Atlantic Coast, and the Atlantic Seaboard, is the coastline along which the Eastern United States meets the North Atlantic Ocean. The coastal states that have shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean are, from north to south, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

Along the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic United States, live oak is found in both single and mixed species forests, dotting the savannas, and as occasional clumps in the grasslands along the lower coastal plain. Live oak grows in soils ranging from heavy textures (clay loams), to sands with layers of organic materials or fine particles. Live oak can be found dominating some maritime forests, especially where fire periodicity and duration are limited. Live oak is found on higher topographic sites as well as hammocks in marshes and swamps. In general, southern live oak hugs the coastline and is rarely found more than 300 feet above sea level. Live oaks grow across a wide range of sites with many moisture regimes – ranging from dry to moist. Live oak will survive well on both dry sites and in wet areas, effectively handling short duration flooding if water is moving and drainage is good. Good soil drainage is a key resource component for sustained live oak growth. Required precipitation range is 40-65 inches of water per year, preferably in spring and summer. Soil is usually acidic, ranging between pH of 5.5 and 6.5. A live oak on Tyler Avenue in Annapolis, Maryland is the northernmost known mature specimen, although a number of saplings can be found growing around nearby Towson.

Annapolis, Maryland Capital of Maryland

Annapolis is the capital of the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as the county seat of Anne Arundel County. Situated on the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Severn River, 25 miles (40 km) south of Baltimore and about 30 miles (50 km) east of Washington, D.C., Annapolis is part of the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. Its population was measured at 38,394 by the 2010 census.

Towson, Maryland Census-designated place in Maryland, United States

Towson is an unincorporated community and a census-designated place in Baltimore County, Maryland. The population was 55,197 as of the 2010 census. It is the county seat and the second-most populated unincorporated county seat in the United States.


Leaves and acorns of a southern live oak Shingle-oak-leaves-acorns.jpg
Leaves and acorns of a southern live oak
The Century Tree at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas Century Tree.jpg
The Century Tree at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas

Although live oaks retain their leaves nearly year-round, they are not true evergreens. Live oaks drop their leaves immediately before new leaves emerge in the spring. Occasionally, senescing leaves may turn yellow or contain brown spots in the winter, leading to the mistaken belief that the tree has oak wilt, whose symptoms typically occur in the summer. [7] A live oak's defoliation may occur sooner in marginal climates or in dry or cold winters. [8]

The bark is dark, thick, and furrowed longitudinally. The leaves are stiff and leathery, with the tops shiny dark green and the bottoms pale gray and very tightly tomentose, simple and typically flattish with bony-opaque margins, with a length of .75 - 6 inches (2 – 15 cm) and a width of .4 - 2 inches (1 – 5 cm), borne alternately. The male flowers are green hanging catkins with lengths of 3 - 4 inches (7.5 –10 cm). The acorns are small, .4 - 1 inch (1 - 2.5 cm), oblong in shape (ovoid or oblong-ellipsoid), shiny and tan-brown to nearly black, often black at the tips, and borne singly or in clusters. [6] [8]

The avenue of live oaks at Boone Hall in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, planted in 1743. Boone-hall-avenue-of-oaks-sc1.jpg
The avenue of live oaks at Boone Hall in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, planted in 1743.
A specimen at the former Protestant Children's Home in Mobile, Alabama. It has a trunk circumference of 23 feet (7.0 m), height of 63 feet (19 m) and limb spread of 141 feet (43 m). Oak at the Protestant Children's Home Sept 2012.jpg
A specimen at the former Protestant Children's Home in Mobile, Alabama. It has a trunk circumference of 23 feet (7.0 m), height of 63 feet (19 m) and limb spread of 141 feet (43 m).

Depending on the growing conditions, live oaks vary from a shrub-size to large and spreading tree-size: typical open-grown trees reach 20 meters (65.5 feet) in height, with a limb spread of nearly 27 meters (88.5 feet). [9] Their lower limbs often sweep down towards the ground before curving up again. They can grow at severe angles, and Native Americans used to bend saplings over so that they would grow at extreme angles, to serve as trail markers.

The branches frequently support other plant species such as rounded clumps of ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata), thick drapings of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides), and parasitic mistletoe.

The southern live oak has a deep tap-root that anchors it when young and eventually develops into an extensive and widespread root system. This, along with its low center of gravity and other factors, makes the southern live oak extremely resistant to strong sustained winds, such as those seen in hurricanes. [10]

The southern live oak responds "with vigorous growth to plentiful moisture on well-drained soil." [8] [11] They tend to survive fire, because often a fire will not reach their crowns. Even if a tree is burned, its crowns and roots usually survive the fire and sprout vigorously. Furthermore, live oak forests discourage entry of fire from adjacent communities because they provide dense cover that discourages the growth of a flammable understory.[ citation needed ] They can withstand occasional floods and hurricanes, and are resistant to salt spray and moderate soil salinity. Although they grow best in well-drained sandy soils and loams, they will also grow in clay. [12]


The avenue of live oaks at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, planted in the early 18th century. Oak alley - view from front.jpg
The avenue of live oaks at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, planted in the early 18th century.

Live oak wood is hard, heavy, and difficult to work with, but very strong. In the days of wooden ships, live oaks were the preferred source of the framework timbers of the ship, using the natural trunk and branch angles for their strength. The frame of USS Constitution was constructed from southern live oak wood harvested from St. Simons Island, Georgia, and the density of the wood grain allowed it to survive cannon fire, thus earning her the nickname "Old Ironsides". Even today, the U.S. Navy continues to own extensive live oak tracts. [13]

The primary uses for southern live oaks today are providing food and shelter for wildlife. Among the animals for which live oak acorns are an important food source are the bobwhite quail, the threatened Florida scrub jay, the wood duck, yellow-bellied sapsucker, wild turkey, black bear, various species of squirrel, and the white-tailed deer. The tree crown is very dense, making it valuable for shade, and the species provides nest sites for many mammal species. Native Americans extracted a cooking oil from the acorns, used all parts of live oak for medicinal purposes, leaves for making rugs, and bark for dyes. [14] The roots of seedlings sometimes form starchy, edible tubers. People in past centuries harvested and fried these tubers for human consumption much as one might use a potato. [5]


Southern live oak is cultivated in warmer climates as a specimen tree or for shade in the southern United States (zone 8 and south), Nuevo León and Tamaulipas states in Mexico, and in the warmer parts of the United States, Europe, and Australia. Cultivation is relatively simple, as Southern live oak seedlings grow fast with ample soil moisture. After a few years live oak needs only occasional supplemental water. Southern live oak is very long lived, and there are many specimens that are more than 400 years old in the deep southern United States.

Famous specimens

The Angel Oak on Johns Island, South Carolina. The man standing under the tree is 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) tall. Angel Oak Tree in SC.jpg
The Angel Oak on Johns Island, South Carolina. The man standing under the tree is 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) tall.
The Emancipation Oak in Hampton, Virginia Hampton University - Emancipation Oak.jpg
The Emancipation Oak in Hampton, Virginia

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Quercus marilandica</i> species of plant

Quercus marilandica, the blackjack oak, is a small oak, one of the red oak group Quercus sect. Lobatae. It is native to the eastern and central United States, from Long Island to Florida, west as far as Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. There are reports of a few isolated populations in southern Michigan, but these appear to represent introductions.

<i>Quercus muehlenbergii</i> species of plant

Quercus muehlenbergii, the chinkapin oak, is an oak in the white oak group. The species was often called Quercus acuminata in older literature. Quercus muehlenbergii, is native to eastern and central North America, ranging from Vermont west to Wisconsin and south to South Carolina, western Florida, New Mexico, and northeastern Mexico from Coahuila south to Hidalgo.

<i>Quercus velutina</i> tree species

Quercus velutina, the eastern black oak or more commonly known as simply black oak, is a species in the red oak group of oaks. It is widespread in eastern and central North America, found in all the coastal states from Maine to Texas, inland as far as Michigan, Ontario, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and eastern Texas.

<i>Quercus bicolor</i> species of plant

Quercus bicolor, the swamp white oak, is a North American species of medium-sized trees in the beech family. It is a common element of America's north central and northeastern mixed forests. It can survive in a variety of habitats. It forms hybrids with bur oak where they occur together in the wild.

<i>Quercus agrifolia</i> species of plant

Quercus agrifolia, the California live oak or coast live oak, is a highly variable, often shrubby evergreen oak tree, a type of live oak, native to the California Floristic Province. It grows west of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from Mendocino County, California, south to northern Baja California in Mexico. It is classified in the red oak section of oaks.

<i>Quercus laurifolia</i> species of plant

Quercus laurifolia is a medium-sized semi-evergreen oak in the red oak section Quercus sect. Lobatae. It is native to the southeastern and south-central the United States, from coastal Virginia to central Florida and west to southeast Texas. There are reports of the species growing in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but these probably represent introductions.

<i>Quercus douglasii</i> species of plant

Quercus douglasii, known as blue oak, is a species of oak endemic to California, common in the Coast Ranges and foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It is occasionally known as mountain oak and iron oak.

<i>Quercus shumardii</i> species of plant

Quercus shumardii, the Shumard oak, spotted oak, Schneck oak, Shumard red oak, or swamp red oak, is one of the largest of the oak species in the red oak group. It is closely related to Texas red oak, Nuttall's oak, and Chisos red oak.

Hammock (ecology) Ecosystem in Southeastern United States consisting of stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island within a contrasting ecosystem

Hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem. Hammocks grow on elevated areas, often just a few inches high, surrounded by wetlands that are too wet to support them. The term hammock is also applied to stands of hardwood trees growing on slopes between wetlands and drier uplands supporting a mixed or coniferous forest. Types of hammocks found in the United States include tropical hardwood hammocks, temperate hardwood hammocks, and maritime or coastal hammocks. Hammocks are also often classified as hydric, mesic or xeric. The types are not exclusive, but often grade into each other.

Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests

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<i>Quercus chrysolepis</i> species of plant

Quercus chrysolepis, commonly termed canyon live oak, canyon oak, golden cup oak or maul oak, is a North American species of evergreen oak that is found in Mexico and in the western United States, notably in the California Coast Ranges. This tree is often found near creeks and drainage swales growing in moist cool microhabitats. Its leaves are a glossy dark green on the upper surface with prominent spines; a further rapid identification arises from the leaves of canyon live oak being geometrically flat. They are often sympatric with Quercus agrifolia and several other oak species. Fossil data supports a much wider distribution throughout the western United States during the early Holocene period.

<i>Quercus arkansana</i> species of plant

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<i>Quercus hemisphaerica</i> species of plant

Quercus hemisphaerica is a species of oak native to the southeastern and south-central United States, from Texas to Delaware. It is in the red oak section Quercus sect. Lobatae. It is often confused with and closely related to the Quercus laurifolia in which it differs in several key characteristics.

<i>Quercus pagoda</i> species of plant

Quercus pagoda, the cherrybark oak, is one of the most highly valued red oaks in the southern United States. It is larger and better formed than southern red oak and commonly grows on more moist sites. Its strong wood and straight form make it an excellent timber tree. Many wildlife species use its acorns as food, and cherrybark oak makes a fine shade tree. Cherrybark oak was formerly considered to be a subspecies of southern red oak, Quercus falcata, subsp pagodifolia.

<i>Quercus oblongifolia</i> species of plant

Quercus oblongifolia, commonly known as the Arizona blue oak, Blue live oak or Sonoran blue oak, is an evergreen small tree or large shrub in the white oak group.

<i>Quercus geminata</i> species of plant

Quercus geminata, commonly called sand live oak, is an evergreen oak tree native to the coastal regions of the subtropical southeastern United States, along the Atlantic Coast from southern Florida northward to southeastern Virginia and along the Gulf Coast westward to southern Mississippi, on seacoast dunes and on white sands in evergreen oak scrubs.

<i>Quercus hypoleucoides</i> species of plant

Quercus hypoleucoides, the silverleaf oak or the whiteleaf oak is a North American species of trees or shrubs in the beech family. It grows in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

The Southern coastal plain oak dome and hammock is a forest type occurring in small patches in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. These forests consist of thick stands of evergreen oaks on shallow depressions or slight hills. They are distinct from their surrounding habitats, which are often woodlands dominated by longleaf pine.


  1. illustration from Histoire des arbres forestiers de l'Amérique septentrionale, considérés principalement sous les rapports de leur usages dans les arts et de leur introduction dans le commerce ... Par F.s André-Michaux. Paris, L. Haussmann,1812-13. François André Michaux (book author), Henri-Joseph Redouté (illustrator), Gabriel (engraver)
  2. Q. virginiana was first described and published in the Gardeners Dictionary, Edition 8. London. Quercus no. 16. 1768. "Plant Name Details for Quercus virginiana". International Plant Names Index (IPNI). International Organization for Plant Information (IOPI). Retrieved July 19, 2010.
  3. "Quercus virginiana Mill.". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew via The Plant List.
  4. Bender, Steve, ed. (January 2004). "Quercus virginiana". The Southern Living Garden Book (2nd ed.). Birmingham, Alabama: Oxmoor House. ISBN   978-0-376-03910-1.
  5. 1 2 Nixon, Kevin C. (1997). "Quercus virginiana". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). 3. New York and Oxford. Retrieved 2008-11-01 via eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  6. 1 2 Nelson, Gil (1994), The Trees of Florida: A Reference and Field Guide, Sarasota, Florida, USA: Pineapple Press, p. 84, ISBN   978-1-56164-055-3
  7. "Live oak dropping leaves in early spring". Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Texas A&M University. 2010-09-08. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 Kurz, Herman; Godfrey, Robert K. (1962), Trees of Northern Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA: University Press of Florida, pp. 103–104, ISBN   978-0-8130-0666-6
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  10. "Selecting Tropical and Subtropical Tree Species For Wind Resistance" (PDF). University of Florida IFAS Extension. University of Florida. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
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  13. "Landowner Fact Sheets - live oak Quercus virginiana". Virginia Tech Dendrology. Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
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  15. "History of the Angel Oak".
  16. Sledge, John S. (1982). Cities of Silence. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. pp. 15, 19. ISBN   978-0-8173-1140-7.
  17. Pruitt, Paul M.; Higgins, Robert Bond (1963). "Crime and Punishment in Antebellum Mobile: The Long Story of Charles R. S. Boyington". Gulf Coast Historical Review. 11 (Spring 1996): 6–40.
  18. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) "Fun 4 Gator Kids Cellon Live Oak", Retrieved 2011-07-06
  19. "Cellon Oak Park", Retrieved 2011-07-06
  20. Borland, Timothy (July 22, 2011). "Treehugger 4: Duffie Live Oak". Mobile Bay Magazine. PMT Publishing. Archived from the original on May 12, 2014. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  21. Owen, Sue. "Find Pushes Century Tree's Planting Back To 125 Years Ago". www.aggienetwork.com. Retrieved 2018-06-03.
  22. "Century Tree". Famous Trees of Texas. Texus A&M Forest Service. Retrieved 2018-06-03.
  23. Evangeline Oak Louisiana Historical Marker