Live oak is a species that may be in shrub form in some areas or a massive spreading tree in others, depending upon the landscape. Live oak grows in the United States along the Atlantic Coast from Virginia throughout all of Florida and along the Gulf Coast into interior portions of central Texas. A distinguished ornamental tree, the live oak is subject to various insect pests and diseases, as well as other conditions that may affect it.
The tree garners its name from the leaves that stay upon the branches through winter, falling off only when new ones are ready to replace them quickly. This makes the tree evergreen, which can keep sunlight off parts of your house in the winter months when you crave some warmth. The foliage is elliptical, with some leaves broader than others. Most leaves are between 2 and 5 inches in length. The leaves are rigid and shiny, dark green on the top and gray-green below.
While a live oak does not grow to great heights, typically averaging about 50 to 60 feet tall, the tree can spread as wide as 100 feet or more with its sprawling limbs. This must be taken into consideration when deciding on placement. The live oak may live for centuries under good conditions. The lower branches tend to droop and may need pruning or they can impact clearance for people or vehicles depending on where the tree exists on your property.
In the wild, the live oak is vulnerable to the effects of fire, a circumstance not normally encountered when the species is an ornamental. The live oak has a thin bark, an aspect of the tree that allows easy entry for fungi, insects and the diseases they may precipitate. Freezing temperatures are a major concern for the live oak due to the thin bark; unexpected freezes can kill young seedlings and poorly established trees.
A serious ailment of the live oak is live oak decline, a disease that the United States Forest Service website says has the ability to kill many trees each year in parts of the nation. A malady known as leaf blister can also adversely affect the foliage on a live oak. Insect pests such as a borer beetle known as Archodontes melanopus are problematic when they chew into the roots of a live oak. Spanish moss, a plant that will grow on live oak but not in a parasitic manner, still may distress the tree when it gets so large that it prevents light from reaching parts of the tree.
Salinity, one of the things that can harm many other trees, has little influence on a live oak. The tree can withstand salt spray and in some instances will exist where saltwater reaches the roots in a coastal scenario. The live oak has strong branches that the high winds of storms such as hurricanes do not easily rip away. The narrow oblong acorns the tree produces attract wildlife in the fall and winter.