By Eileen Grant
This past spring, having just finished the Tree Stewards class, I stepped into a new world of trees, especially tree identification. After the class I couldn’t walk my dog around Alexandria without looking at trees and labeling them… or at least trying to! (That’s a Red, no, a White Oak, that’s some sort of a fruit tree, or maybe not?). I have my handy tree ID book that I leaf through to figure out what is what. I know I’m driving my husband crazy.
I continued this in Duck, NC this year with the beautiful trees surrounding the house we stayed in. I didn’t bring my tree ID book so I used the VTree App on my smart phone. For the twisting green trees surrounding our house the app initially gave me the identification of “Exotic Olive Tree”. The strange identification showed me how much I have to learn (and how aps don’t always know everything). I quickly figured that wasn’t correct.
By process of elimination (and a lot of help from the computer) I learned the many trees surrounding our house and neighborhood were Southern Live Oaks. There were thousands of them around Duck (note to self, when there are thousands of trees around chances are they aren’t exotic) and all over Southeastern North America. Southern Live Oaks, technically classified as Quercus virginiana, are particularly iconic in the Old South, often living past seventy years.
The reason it’s called a live oak is because it’s essentially evergreen and doesn’t lose its leaves in the fall thus doesn’t look dead in the winter. The leaves are very different than other oak leaves as well. They are almost like Holly leaves without the thorny part, also resembling small Magnolia leaves. They are little, waxy and tough.
They are so wide spread in the Southeastern region because of their deep tap roots that anchor them and on top of that a widespread root system. This helps them during times of strong winds (surviving hurricanes). They can also withstand floods but grow well in sandy soils. They’re also resistant to salt spray. The primary use for these trees is food and shelter for wildlife of all kinds (from butterflies to quail to black bears). Because the wood is hard and heavy it was used for ships during the wooden ship building years.
The house we rented sat back a good 25 yards from the street and the front yard was a forest of these trees. They almost looked magical in some light, growing at odd angles and covered with some sort of fungus. My beach trip this year definitely had a different twist to it because of them.