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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Live Oak

Live Oak

(Quercus virginiana Mill.)

  Live oak is found from southeastern Virginia through the lower Coastal Plain of North Carolina and southward, but it is plentiful only south of Cape Hatteras. It is a tree with a wide-spreading crown and gnarled branches which are often covered with Spanish moss, making it one of the most characteristic trees of the coastal region. Live oak, as the name implies, is evergreen and also is long-lived.

Live oak leaves are quite small (2 to 5 inches long), oval with rounded ends and have margins that are mostly smooth but may be slightly toothed.

The dark brown to nearly black acorn is 3/4 to 1 inch long and usually attached on long stalks in clusters of three to five. The cup, which is scaly, encloses about a third of the fruit, tapering rapidly to the stem.

The bark on the trunk and large branches is dark brown tinged with red and is slightly furrowed.

The tree seldom grows to more than 50 feet in height, but it may have a crown span of 100 feet or more. Open-grown trees may have trunk diameters of 6 to 7 feet.

Live oak wood is extremely difficult to saw and dry. It was once prized for blocks and ribs on sailing ships, and it is now one of the most desirable trees for roadside and ornamental planting along the coast. Live oak acorns are a dependable and highly desirable food for a wide variety of wildlife.
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