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What is a Live Oak Tree? Get All the Facts

Enormous live oak tree growing in a public park with Spanish moss hanging from the branches in the sunlight

Quercus Virginiana

Live oak trees are most commonly known as the southern live oak, as they are endemic to the extreme south of the United States. These trees are iconic of the deep old south, in places like Louisiana and Georgia.

This is an evergreen tree species, with other common names like the Virginia live oak, the bay live oak, the scrub live oak, or the plateau oak. The live oak tree is often confused with other white oak species, as they are all very similar in appearance.

This majestic tree is known for its incredibly far-reaching crown spread, making them an incredible am specimen tree or shade tree for garden and park landscapes.

Feeling curious about other types of oak trees? What about trees in general? We’ve compiled an amazing list of 101 Types of Trees from all over the planet, and there you can discover many interesting details about why trees grow the way they do, how they reproduce, and how humans have utilized them throughout the years. So once you’re done learning about Quercus Virginia, head on over there!

Related: Chestnut Oak Tree | White Oak Tree | Scarlet Oak Tree | Northern Red Oak Tree | Black Oak Tree | Types of Oak Wood

What do Live Oak Trees Look Like?

Root System

Live oak trees are known for having an enormous crown spread, and so they need a root system that will be able to support this substantial top heavy weight.

Live oaks will first develop a very deep taproot. Not only to help them access water and nutrients but to ensure that the foundation for the tree is stabilized. (Funnily enough, this is something oak trees have in common with carrots!)

Then, the tree will eventually develop a wide spreading root system. This low centre of gravity makes the live oak trees resistant to strong and sustained winds, which are common with the number of annual hurricanes in their growing regions.


Though live oak trees aren’t particularly tall – usually reaching heights of 20-30 meters – they are exceptional because of their incredible limb spread.

With their common height of 25 meters, they can support a crown spread of over 35 meters! Even more impressive than that, their root system will often times exceed the spread of their crown.

Very large live oak tree growing with spanish moss hanging from branches in green forest

Growth Pattern

Live oak trees are the most notable and the most easily recognized by their incredible crown growth pattern. These trees have very open and wide spreading crowns, making them impeccable shade trees.

Live oak branches often sweep down towards to the ground, so low that one could simply step onto the branch and walk along it. Though the branches are rather spread apart, it still creates a dense canopy in a mature live oak.

It is said that certain First Nations communities would purposefully bend and shape young live oak saplings in severe ways to serve as trail markers!


Live oak tree bark is very dark brown and very thick. It has longitudinal furrows.


Though live oaks are classified as an evergreen tree, they are not actually true evergreens. Though they do keep their leaves all year, the leaves of the previous year will fall right before the spring foliage is meant to emerge. So, not entirely evergreen foliage, but not not evergreen foliage either.

A live oak leaf is very stiff with a leathery texture. They are simple in shape and are alternately arranged on a twig. Live oak leaves are around 6 inches long and 2 inches wide with bony opaque margins. The live oak leaf is a glossy green color on the top side of the leaf, and a pale gray color on the bottom side that is slightly tomentose.

Close up shot of single glossy green live oak tree leaf growing on a twig

How do Live Oak Trees Reproduce?


Oak trees are monoecious, meaning that a single tree will possess both male flowers (pollen producing) and female flowers (ovule producing).

Male flowers are borne as catkins, which are long drooping clusters. A catkin is 3-4 inches long and is a bright green color. Male flowers first emerge in the spring, develop in the summer, and will then produce pollen the following spring.

Pollen is wind dispersed, and is brought to female flowers. Female flowers are much smaller and resemble buds. They develop in the late winter or early spring.

Flowers of the live oak tree growing in clusters in middle of new spring foliage


Once they are fertilized, an oak acorn will emerge. Acorns become mature only 3 months are the original fertilization. They are a small oblong or ovoid shape, with a shiny brown husk.

These acorns are adored by many insect, bird, and mammal species, and will often be eaten before they ever have the chance to germinate.

Sexual Maturity

Oak trees often times take decades to become sexually mature. They usually won’t start producing acorns until they are between 20 and 30 years old.

Long live oak tree leaves and acorns cut with a twig on an isolated white background

What are Some Other Oak Species?

The Laurel Oak Tree (Quercus Hemisphaerica)

Laurel oak trees are also called the sand laurel oak, are oftentimes confused with the swamp laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia). They are native to more southeast/southcentral America and grow in very wet regions. These trees are part of the red oak group of oak trees, and are medium-sized trees, usually reaching heights of 25 meters.

The Escarpment Live Oak Tree (Quercus Fusiformis)

The escarpment live oak tree is also known as the plateau live oak, or Texas live oak. These trees are native to more central and dry sites of the United States. This smaller live oak species can be found growing in Texas, Oklahoma, and certain Mexican states as well.

The Sand Live Oak Tree (Quercus Geminata)

The sand live oak tree is an evergreen oak tree that is native to the coastal regions of the subtropical southern United States. They are called sand live oaks because they grow in a maritime forest, one could say. They only grow in seacoast dunes and in white sands. These wonderful trees are a medium-sized oak species, reaching heights of 20 meters, but of course with a very wide-spreading crown.

Sand live oak tree without leaves growing in a dry looking site

What are Some Notable Live Oak Trees?

The Seven Sisters Oak Tree – This is a notable live oak tree because it is the largest oak on the planet. Not only is it estimated to be between 500 and 1000 years old, but it has a trunk diameter of 12 meters, a height of 17 meters, but a crown spread of 46 meters!

The Friendship Oak Tree – The friendship oak tree is a notable oak tree because of its incredible shape. It is an estimated 500 years old, and can be found growing on the Gulf Park Campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

The Angel Oak Tree – This is a notable live oak tree because of its impressive age, and as equally impressive crown spread. This tree is grows in south Carolina on John’s Island, and is an estimated 400-500 years old. It has a trunk diameter of 8.5 meters, a height of 20 meters, but a spread of 57 meters!

Amazing shot of the angel oak tree growing in south carolina with giant canopy and branches touching the ground

Where do Live Oak Trees Grow?

Their native range begins in southeastern Virginia, and continues along through to North Carolina and interior South Carolina. The region continues towards southern Georgia, and exists all throughout the Florida Keys, the Florida panhandle, and then westward towards Mississippi, southern Louisiana, and central Texas.

Live oak trees tend to dominate the maritime forest, and can be found growing prosperously in hammocks, marshes, swamps, and occasionally in small groups in grasslands along the lower coastal plains of the United States.

The live oak tree is endemic to the lower east coast of the United States. This means that the tree has only ever been found growing in the wild in that specific region.

These trees will grow either in pure stands or mixed forests, but will never deter anymore than a few dozen meters above sea level.

What are the Growing Conditions of Live Oak Trees?


Live oaks can grow in a wide range of soil types. They can survive in both entirely wet and entirely dry soils, as long as they are well-drained. They prefer to have a pH level occurring between 5.5 and 6.5. It is also their preference to live in sandy soil with very good drainage. They are also tolerant to both flooding conditions and drought conditions, as long as those conditions do not last a long time.

Sun Exposure

Live oaks are sun loving trees. Though they don’t grow too tall, their incredibly wide spreading canopy prevents any other tree species from overbearing their sun exposure, though small trees are able to tolerate partial shade.

Water Level

The live oak tree usually exists in regions that receive between 25 and 65 inches of annual precipitation, which occurs mostly during their growing season.

Giant row of live oak tree growing in a plantation in humid conditions

How are Live Oak Trees Used?

Forest Ecology

Live oaks are a very important plant species in their ecosystem. They are a supportive plant for species like resurrection fern and parasitic mistletoe. They are more recognized by their symbiotic relationship with Spanish moss that is inextricable from the image of the southern live oak.

They also provide an important source of food for local wildlife who heavily feed upon their acorns. Some species include the black bear, bobwhite quail, horace’s duskywing, Florida scrub jay, wild turkey, wood duck, yellow bellied sapsucker, squirrels, and white tailed deer.

Incredible live oak trees with Spanish moss thriving from the branches


Live oak wood is known for being very heavy, very hard, and very difficult to work with. However, there are some instances where these qualities are required. Its strength and durability made live oak tree wood a primary source of framework timber for ship building.


Live oaks are a very popular landscape tree in warmer climates. Not only as a shade tree, street tree, or a specimen tree, but simply as a majestic and whimsical looking plant.

These trees are commonly cultivated in Mexico, the warmest parts of the United States and Europe, and Australia as well. They can grow in zones 8 and southward.


First Nations communities greatly value many aspects of what the live oak tree has to offer. Acorn oil would commonly be extracted for cooking, and roots of seedlings could be eaten as one would eat a potato.

Leaves can be used to make rugs and other textile-like materials, and live oak tree bark can be used for natural pigment dyeing. Not only that, the leaves, bark, inner bark, roots, and sap all have a remarkable medicinal quality as well.

Using bark for natural pigment dyeing with bark stips waiting in a pan for processing