Friday, March 23, 2012

Live Oaks

Baylee and I are back to enjoying our morning walks.  This, above, is our favorite lane.  One block over from our house we enjoy old, gnarled live oaks that frame us as we stroll.  The undergrowth has been cleared, exposing the twisting, stately trunks and thick branches that underlie their beauty

Sunrise always strikes this particular grouping of live oaks.  While Baylee snuffles and shuffles beneath them following invisible trails of deer and rabbit, coyote and raccoon, I stand in awe, completely mystified by the sight.  Live oaks have always been my favorite trees.  These on the coast are smaller and more windswept than others I've witnessed more inland.  That's just an observation. 

Live oaks are found from southeastern Virginia through the lower Coastal Plain of North Carolina and southward.  Plentiful only south of Cape Hatteras, it is a tree with a wide-spreading crown and very gnarled branches.  Usually, these stately branches are covered with Spanish moss, but they also are a key host to resurrection fern.  Live Oaks are evergreen and long-lived, their tough leathery leaves make them extremely resistant to salt spray.  Their roots can withstand occasional storm surge salt waters. 

Live oaks don't grow particularly tall - usually no more than 50 feet in height.  However, it may have a crown span of 100 feet or more and open-grown trees may have trunk diameters of 6-7 feet.  The wood is very difficult to saw and dry.  Air-dried, the wood weighs about 55 lbs a cubic foot.   Once prized for blocks and ribs on sailing ships it now serves as a highly desirable tree for roadside and ornamental planting along the coast.   The U.S.S. Constitution was one of six frigates authorized in 1794 by President George Washington for national defense.  The ship was built primarily with live oak.  "Old Ironsides" owes it nickname to the live oak tree.  During the War of 1812 someone reportedly witnessed an iron shot bounce off the side of the ship and exclaimed "Huzza, her sides are made of iron!" 
Live oaks' huge canopy provides shelter for numerous species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.  We find them lying in the sunshine on our deck, occasionally.  Tree frogs and lizards so far - hope that's all that visit.  Live oak acorns are a plentiful and desirable food for a wide variety of wildlife. 

Researching for this post I learned that the coastal maritime forest is among the most endangered of natural communities, facing threat from development in addition to climate change.  Nearly all of North Carolina's old-growth live oaks disappeared by the end of the 19th century.  today, all of the live oak trees in the state from either in developed areas or pockets of maritime forest that are in extreme danger.  Most of this information was lifted directly from "Live Oak" by Kevin Adams.  You can read his entire article by linking here.


Gaelyn said...

Those low swept twists of branches call to be sat upon for a visit with these stately trees.

So glad you and Baylee are getting out. These shots are wonderful with such variance of lighting.

Seems you are in a good place.

Eve said...

Such beautiful trees, photos, and post! I love seeing your world Debi! Thanks!!!!!

Steve Borichevsky said...

Hah! An interesting tidbit about the Constitution!

bunnits said...

One of my favorite trees. Thanks for the great photos.

Carol said...

Poetic in form and light. Beautiful Debie! Lovely to see you are surrounded by so much beauty.


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