The live oak (Quercus virginiana) is a sprawling spreading tree when in the open, with some being twice as wide as they are high. The live oak requires abundant room to grow to such proportions, making it a landscaping species suited for large yards and open property. The live oak is a tree of the Southern states, as it will not withstand freezing temperatures, but in the right climate, this tree can become the landscaping focal point of a neighborhood.
Live oak takes its name from its leaves, which remain on the limbs until the following spring, giving the oak an evergreen appearance through winter. The leaves of live oak are elliptical and have a rigid texture, with a leathery feel and a glossy dark-green upper surface. The leaves are susceptible to a disease known as oak leaf wilt, a serious problem that first turns the foliage pale, crinkles the leaves and then wilts them before making its way down the infected branch and into the heart of the tree.
Live oak is a durable species, as it can stand up to high winds, salt spray, flooding and droughts. Live oak is a species, though, that requires constant pruning when young so that it can develop into a picturesque form, with the massive branches high enough off the ground so as not to be problematic. The United States Forest Service website recommends pruning a live oak each year for the initial three years of its life, and then doing so at intervals of five years for the next 30 years. A professional arborist might be a good choice to work on your live oak, as these trees can live for centuries with proper care.
Live oaks, especially those in the Deep South, are the host plant to vegetation known as epiphytes. Among these are Spanish moss and resurrection fern, according to the American Forests website. These plants only require support from a live oak and do not take anything from them in the way of moisture or nutrients. However, in some instances, they can become so thick that they weigh down branches or block sunlight from parts of the tree.
The High Rise live oak cultivar is a type of the live oak species that reverses the trend of the tree being broad and spreading. This hybrid grows to 80 feet tall, but seldom is wider than 40 feet. While lacking the shade-giving area and large horizontal limbs of a typical live oak, the High Rise is able to tolerate colder weather than a normal live oak. The tree does not need as much room to grow and still has some of the live oak's best traits, such as the evergreen look and the resistance to pests.
Among hardwood trees in North America, few produce a harder wood. This aspect of the live oak in colonial days made the tree a valued commodity, as the U.S. Navy used the wood to build warships. The government bought large tracts of live oaks for this specific purpose. One such ship, the U.S.S. Constitution, had a hull composed of live oak that was so durable the ship took on the nickname of Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. The live oak became the state tree of Georgia on Feb. 27, 1937, chosen because of its place as an icon of the South.