The live oak produces wood so strong that the renowned navy vessel U.S.S. Constitution contains timbers from the tree. A cubic foot of air dried wood from a live oak weighs 55 lbs., making it one of the heaviest trees growing in North America, according to the Floridata website. Live oak is an evergreen hardwood of the Deep South that is also an ornamental species. The tree is an impressive sight when it grows to maturity, and a live oak can live for centuries.
While live oak can grow to 85 feet, the tree is typically much wider than it is tall, as the limbs spread out and form an impressive canopy. The trunk can be as wide as 11 feet, and the first few limbs are often horizontal, giving the impression that the oak is a multi-armed giant from a distance. Its leaves are 2 1/2 to 5 inches in length and as wide as 2 1/2 inches. Its sweet, edible acorns are about 1 inch long.
Live oak is evergreen, meaning its foliage remains on the tree throughout the winter. Live oak's leaves are stiff, with a texture like leather. They are elliptical to oblong, dark glossy green on the upper surface and pale gray-green below. In the spring, new leaves grow in to replace the old, making the live oak an excellent shade tree.
Live oak will grow in sandy soil. It is salt tolerant and can thrive on coastal ridges where it has exposure to ocean winds and spray. The tree will form pure stands in many spots. It grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 11, with the northern border of its range in southeast Virginia. Live oaks can be found along the coastal plain southward into all of Florida, along the Gulf Coast and into central Texas. Live oak also grows in Cuba and certain regions of Mexico.
Live oaks require full or partial, damp soil and excellent drainage. The live oak withstands dry conditions once it has begun to take hold. The tree, which grows quickly in the first few years, will sprout cloned offshoots from its roots. This can require maintenance beneath the tree to keep these from growing into a dense thicket. Giving a live oak the amount of space it requires can be problematic for landowners with limited acreage.
Animals such as turkey, deer and raccoons eat live oak acorns. The live oak often has Spanish moss hanging from its branches, a plant that is not a parasite, but one that gets its nutrients from the atmosphere. Live oak became Georgia’s state tree on February 25, 1937. One live oak in Florida had a crown of branches that spread 150 feet, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences site.