South Carolina Picture Project
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Live Oak — Live Oaks, South Carolina

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Live Oak

Live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) – also called Southern live oaks or Virginia live oaks – are most often associated with the coast in South Carolina, though the evergreen species can grow throughout the state. The tree, known for its expansive branches, grows abundantly in maritime forests and along the coastal plain, as it favors warm and humid conditions.

Beaufort Oak

Josh Whiteside of Beaufort © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Because the tree has adapted to withstand coastal storms, a live oak’s height generally reaches just 40 to 80 feet while its limbs can span up to one hundred. These proportions help prevent the tree from toppling in the event of a hurricane and also lend the live oak its enigmatic appeal – as seen in the tree above, located in the Carolina Shores community of Beaufort and featured the movie The War, a 1994 film starring Kevin Costner.

Angel Oak Live Oak

Mark Wickliffe of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The live oak can withstand other harsh coastal conditions as well. The tree’s waxy leaves tolerate salt spray, borne by oceans and creeks, and retain their deep green color almost all year, giving the tree its common name, live oak. Live oaks are not true evergreens however; they replace their leaves briefly each spring over a course of two to three weeks. This replenishment period generally coincides with the blooming of azaleas and dogwoods, and during this time, the trees sport bright green leaves instead – as well as masses of olive-hued pollen!

Johns Island Angel Oak

John Wollwerth of Beaufort © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

An oak’s limbs often rest on the ground – as seen in the two photos above, which feature the renowned Angel Oak of Johns Island – and are stabilized by their own weight. Live oaks grow well in sandy soil and shade, traits of the coastal plain and the understory of a slash pine (Pinus elliottii) forest – common natural communities for live oaks.

Methodist Oaks

Andy Hunter of North Augusta © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The live oak grows quickly when it is young, at a rate of about two to two-and-a-half feet per year. However, the rate of growth slows as the tree matures, and its trunk diameter – which averages six feet – is typically reached at around 70 years. The average life span of a live oak is around 300 years, though in the right conditions, many can grow much older – even to a thousand or more years. The live oaks that line the Methodist Oaks Retirement Community in Orangeburg, seen above, were planted as ornamental shade trees, but their proximity to the Edisto River allows them to flourish.

South Boundary Avenue

Shirley Radabaugh of Aiken, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Live oaks often are planted as ornamentals in places other than the coast. The tree can endure cooler climates, but will grow more slowly the further away from the coast it is planted. Live oaks do not tolerate freezing weather but can withstand the cold temperatures experienced in the Piedmont and other regions of South Carolina. South Boundary Avenue in Aiken, above, is canopied with thriving oak trees and is one of the state’s signature residential roads.

Boone Hall Avenue of Oaks

Julie G. Rowe of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

That said, live oaks are never so grand as they are near the coast. The avenue of oaks at Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant, above, was planted in 1843 but looks as though it has been around since the land itself. Unlike live oaks in other regions, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) hangs from the limbs of coastal trees.

Live Oaks and Azaleas

Diana Cochran Johnson of Cleveland, TN © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

An epiphyte, Spanish moss – which is neither Spanish nor a moss – grows profusely in the South Carolina Lowcountry as well as other humid places in the Southeast. The plant, which produces a nearly unnoticeable lime green flower, lives on the tree’s branches but does not siphon nutrients from the tree. It can shade out the lower leaves of a tree already in decline, which can further the decline of the tree. However, the Spanish moss itself is not the cause for initial decline in an unhealthy tree.

Botany Bay Canopy

Mark VanDyke of Herndon, VA © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The live oaks and Spanish moss that flank the entrance to Botany Bay at Edisto Beach, above, seem to beckon to those eager to learn the secrets held by the stalwart trees, stories they have kept for countless generations. Here are some more exquisite photos of South Carolina’s live oaks for you to enjoy:

Mansfield Plantation Oak Tree

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

There is nowhere better to enjoy our state’s beauty than from the shade of a giant live oak. This one is located at Mansfield Plantation in Georgetown County.

Colleton River Plantation

Phill Doherty of Mississauga, ON © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Here, live oaks grace the fields at Colleton River Plantation in Beaufort County.

The McLeod Oak

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The McLeod Oak at James Island‘s McLeod Plantation is one of the largest and most majestic live oaks in our state. It stood sentry to the Charleston headquarters of the Freedman’s Bureau following the Civil War.

Live Oak and Swing

John Wollwerth of Beaufort © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Above, another swing welcomes visitors to rest beneath the limbs of a stately live oak, this one in Okatie‘s Oldfield community.

Botany bay Edisto

Alistair Nicol of Mt Pleasant © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Lives oaks living nearest the coast can succumb to the sea as barrier islands shift and ebb. Even in death their form takes on a haunting, sculptural beauty. The tree above stands at Botany Bay on Edisto Island.

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12 Comments about Live Oak

SC Picture Project says:
November 30th, 2018 at 2:42 pm

From a quick search, we are not sure that data on the longest limb is available. Typically the entire tree is measured and the term “largest” is applied to its overall measurements.

Dan Lok says:
November 29th, 2018 at 9:13 pm

What is the longest unsupported oak tree limb east of the Mississippi? The US?

SC Picture Project says:
September 27th, 2018 at 7:23 am

In the credit below each photo, the photographer’s name is listed, is a link that will take you to their website. Some photographers don’t have websites, however, in in those cases we can try to get you in touch. Do you have any particular photo in mind?

Judy Jones says:
September 27th, 2018 at 12:02 am

Where can I buy prints of these prints or photos to frame?

John Maccurtain says:
September 30th, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Oak trees on Johns island have colored ribbons on them recently put there by a city crew especially on Salvo Lane, what do they mean?

Jan Rodenberg Hardman says:
April 19th, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Same type, but not the same tree.

Rick White says:
January 10th, 2017 at 3:45 pm

No, you have to get a permit to cut them down or face a hefty fine…

SCIWAY says:
October 22nd, 2015 at 6:35 am

MOst cities have tree ordinances, so you would shave to check with your municipality.

Eva says:
October 22nd, 2015 at 6:30 am

Is it legal in SC to cut down oak trees?

SCIWAY says:
October 1st, 2015 at 6:58 am

Hi, Kathryn. The live oak seen in the Kevin Costner movie is another spectacular SC oak seen at the top of the page at this link: It is the live oak at the entrance of the Carolina Shores subdivision in Beaufort. Many say it is the twin of the Angel Oak!

Kathryn Purvis says:
October 1st, 2015 at 1:30 am

Is the Angel Oak the same tree as in The War movie with Kevin Costner?

Nina Scott says:
February 28th, 2015 at 1:13 pm

This is a beautiful description of the Live Oak Trees in South Carolina.


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