When we think of the lowcountry, visions of sprawling oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, forming an archway above a country lane, flash through our mind. Romanticized in movies like Forrest Gump and Gone With the Wind, live oak trees are true icons of the South. But what do we really know about these majestic trees?
The Southern Live Oak tree, scientifically known as Quercus virginiana, is named “Live” because, unlike most oak trees, they are nearly evergreen. They replace their leaves quickly, within two weeks, and the leaves remain green year round.
Live oaks thrive in warm humid conditions and grow well in salty soils. For this reason, and the fact that they cannot tolerate freezing temperatures, they are found only as far north as Virginia, south to Florida and west to parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Nurtured in their ideal environment, live oaks have an incredible lifespan reaching their peak growth within 70 years, with the oldest studied trees estimated to be several hundred years old. One of the most famous of the elder trees, Angel Oak, located on Johns Island near Charleston, South Carolina, is over 400 years old. At full size the crown of these trees spread out to an average of 80 feet.
Southern live oaks do grow wild, however they are most popular as ornaments of landscapes in the south. Though no longer used for timber, at one time their dense and durable wood was popular for shipbuilding. The naval vessel USS Constitution was given the nickname “Old Ironsides” by virtue of the live oak hull that survived cannon fire during the war of 1812.
Here in South Carolina, beautiful mature live oaks are found throughout the lowcountry. Litchfield Plantation, the site of Classic’s second Southern Living Showcase Home, is a popular choice for romantic Southern weddings. The streets, lined with signature live oak trees, give it a beautiful cinematic setting and provide a natural and peaceful backdrop for the showcase home known as the River Run…ah, even its name promotes that peaceful, easy feeling.