Live oak

Quercus virginiana
Family: Fagaceae

Natural Historylaurel oak branch
Spreading branches of a live oak
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Live oak is the southern symbol of strength. It is the state tree of Georgia. Lining the historic streets of small towns, the reclining branches create a canopy of speckled light.

The national champion live oak was discovered in 1976 near Louisburg, Louisiana. It had a diameter of 11.65 feet, height of 55 feet, and crown spread of 132 feet. The Florida champion live oak, as given in the 1984 revised list, was found in Alachua County and measured 108 inches in diameter, 83 feet in height, and had a spread 150.5 feet.

On the Gulf Coast, live oaks often support many types of epiphytic plants, including Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) which hangs in weeping garlands, giving the trees a striking appearance. Live oak is a fast-growing tree.

Habitat & Range

Live oak is a large-spreading tree of the lower Coastal Plain from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida and to southern Texas. Inhabiting a wide variety of sites, you can find live oak in almost pure stands, or scattered in mixed woodlands, hammocks, flatwoods, borders of salt marshes, roadsides, city lots, and commonly scattered in pastures. Live oak is found growing in association with several other hardwoods, including the water oak, laurel oak, sweetgum, southern magnolia, and American holly.

Wildlife Use

Sweet edible acorns are usually produced in great abundance and are of value to many birds and mammals including wild turkeys, wood ducks, jays, quail, whitetail deer, raccoons, and squirrels.

Human Use

The yellowish-brown wood is hard, heavy, tough, strong, and is used for structural beams, shipbuilding, posts, and in places requiring strength and durability. The trees have been historically planted in cities. When planting live oak, it should be restricted to large yards or parks where the spreading form can be accommodated. Live oak ranks as one of the heaviest native hardwoods, weighing 55 pounds per cubic foot when air dry. This weight or density makes live oak a good fuel wood although it can be very difficult to split. 


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Live oak is a large tree that reaches heights of 65 to 85 feet. It has a wide-spreading crown and is buttressed and flared at the base of the trunk.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, and may persist on the tree through winter until they gradually fall as new leaves emerge in the spring. The leaves are 2 to 5 inches long by ½ to 2 ½ inches wide. The narrowly to broadly elliptical shaped leaves are usually stiff and leathery. The upper surface is shiny, dark green. The leaves are dull grayish green underneath. The leaf base is tapering and the tip is short-pointed to rounded. The margin is smooth and slightly wavy.
Twigs: The slender, gray twigs are pubescent. As with all oaks, twigs end in multiple terminal buds.
Bark: The dark brown to reddish-brown bark is thick with shallow furrows and roughly ridged, eventually becoming blocky with age.
Flowers: The inconspicuous flowers are brown in color.
Fruit: The acorns are ¾ to 1 inch long, broadest at the base to almost uniformly wide and rounded to pointed at the tip. Acorns are light brown within the cap that covers ¼ of the dark nut. The largest part of the acorn is dark brown to black and shiny. They occur solitary or in clusters of three to five nuts, and they mature in one season on the current year's branchlets.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are 2 other oaks on our list that have unlobed leaves.



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