With a little knowledge and care, the Southern live oak can be a beautiful and beneficial feature of local landscapes
A LIVING HERITAGE
by Melissa Sutton-Seng
THERE’S something captivating about a grand,
graceful, ancient tree, and few are as enchanting
as a Southern live oak.
Live oaks only grow close to the coast in North
Carolina, their nearly evergreen foliage nourished by the warm,
humid air and mild winters. The storied Airlie Oak, at around
500 years old, is the Cape Fear’s best-known live oak, but oth-ers
fill in the backdrop to everyday life. They populate the local
landscape, lining streets, shading playgrounds and, yes, loom-ing
large in our concerns anytime a hurricane threatens.
Though they sometimes give way in the wind, live oaks
are resilient and beneficial. Along with other shade trees,
they cool outdoor spaces, improve air quality, provide a bit
of natural sunscreen, and even lower air conditioning costs
in shaded buildings. A well-maintained live oak is a precious
Planting a live oak is easy and affordable. Nurseries sell
saplings, and nonprofits sometimes host tree giveaways to
encourage urban (and suburban) reforestation. Of course, you
can also collect a few acorns and start from the very beginning.
Whether planting a sapling or caring for a generations-old
tree, it’s a good idea to contact an arborist with any concerns,
including how to remove hazardous branches for hurricane
season. The International Society of Arboriculture website
(treesaregood.org) has a list of local, certified arborists to
advise and assist with maintaining the health of live oaks and
other trees. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension at the
New Hanover County Arboretum is also a great source.
The broad branches of a Southern live oak on Raleigh Street in Wrightsville Beach shade Vickie Ryan-Barr as she rides her bike
on a warm morning in September.
14 october 2020