South Carolina designated the sabal palmetto as the state tree because of the role it played in the Revolutionary War.
However, for many of us, myself included, the live oak – or Quercus virginiana – is our favorite tree and what many of us identify as the Southern tree that serves as the symbol of the Old South.
The live oak’s strength made it widely used for shipbuilding in the days of sail and wooden ships. Because of the tree’s short height and low-hanging branches, “lumber” from live oaks was specifically used to make curved structural members of the ship’s hull, springing inward from the side and supporting the ship’s deck.
In such cuts of lumber, the line of the grain would fall perpendicularly to lines of stress, creating structures of exceptional strength. The hull of the U.S.S. Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides,” was made of live oak. It repeatedly repelled cannon fire during the War of 1812 to earn its name.
The tree is called “live” because it is an evergreen oak, rather than a deciduous one that loses its leaves every year and has a dormant winter period.
We have a live oak by our house, and every three months or so, it will drop about one-quarter to one-third of its leaves. But it remains green all year long.
Live oaks might take 70 years to grow to maximum size and can live between several hundred years to more than a thousand years. The live oak is virtually indestructible. A healthy live oak can survive severe storms, wind and even hurricanes.
They grow in various shapes depending on the environmental conditions, from the majestic symmetrically shaped to the knarled and mishappened.
However, as indestructible as these trees are, they have no defense against the axe or chainsaw. Human needs or wants too often slate the live oak and other specimen trees for removal. New construction or even landscape maintenance are often the culprit.
Developments might also get approval to remove live oaks when they are inconveniently located. A tree that can live 1,000 years can be cut down to make room for a structure with a useful life expectancy of sometimes just 10 to 20 years.
A living thing that has withstood floods and hurricanes is replaced by a structure that may or may not survive the next major storm. And this is called progress?
John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek. firstname.lastname@example.org