Scientific Names for Live Oak Trees

A quintessential tree of the American South, most people may assume "live oak" only refers to the large, sprawling tree that is festooned in Spanish moss. In fact, there are several other species of oak that remain evergreen (or nearly so) and have narrow leaves that are also called live oaks, depending on what part of the United States you live in.

Southern Live Oak

The Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is native to the coastal plain of the extreme southeastern United States, and is the tree romanticized in literature and Hollywood films set in the Deep South. This evergreen tree (but partially to fully deciduous in chilly winter regions) grows 40 to 80 feet tall with sprawling, heavy limbs. It can spread 50 to 120 feet wide.

Coast Live Oak

Dropping nearly all of its oldest leaves in early spring as it produces its new foliage, the coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) is native to coastal central and southern California. This dark gray-barked tree develops a round canopy with dense foliage, maturing 20 to 70 feet tall with a slightly wider spread, 30 to 80 feet.

Canyon Live Oak

The most widely distributed oak in California, the canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis) grows in foothills and desert mountains from southwestern Oregon to Baja California and Arizona. Usually round-headed in shape but slightly spreading, this tree can grow 20 to 60 feet tall and equally as wide. The oblong, sharp-tipped acorns are quite large and are covered in a golden cap.

Escarpment Live Oak

Also called Texas live oak, the escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis) is regarded by some taxonomists as being a natural form of the southern live oak. Native to the plains of central Texas, southern Oklahoma and extreme eastern New Mexico, it tolerates alkaline soil well and adapts well to landscapes across the Desert Southwest according to the "Sunset Western Garden Book." The dense canopy of evergreen leaves matures 30 to 40 feet tall and equally as wide.

Japanese Live Oak

Newly emerging leaves are coppery pink on the Japanese live oak (Quercus myrsinifolia). This species is also called the Chinese evergreen oak. Practically extinct in the wild, its native range includes both Japan and China as well as Laos according to Dr. Michael Dirr, woody plant expert from the University of Georgia. It grows 20 to 50 feet tall and equally as wide, but typically is a bit narrower than it is tall so it forms an oval canopy.

Interior Live Oak

Saplings and youthful trees of the interior live oak (Quercus wislizenii) are usually irregular and sparse, in complete contrast to what they become at maturity--a broad, densely leaved canopy. This oak species hails from the Sierra foothills, eastern slopes of Coast Ranges and in interior valleys from southern Oregon to southern California. It ultimately reaches a height of 30 to 75 feet with spread of 40 to 85 feet.

Sand Live Oak

According to Rufino Osorio, author of "A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants", the sand live oak (Quercus geminata) carries the same horticultural value as the southern live oak but it's much slower growing and only reaches 20 to 30 in height and 25 to 35 feet wide. There is great variability in sand live oak plants, as some are more shrubby in form and tend to create suckering shoots from the roots to form thickets.

Keywords: live oak trees, scientific nomenclature, oak botanical names, oak scientific names, Quercus

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.