The southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is a stately icon of the coastal South. Exceptionally hard, heavy, and difficult to work, the live oak was much used for ship in the days of tall ships; Georgia oaks were used in the construction of the U.S.S Constitution, famously nicknamed “Old Ironsides.” The live oak is so called because it retains its oval leaves throughout the winter.
This spring I was fortunate enough to visit what is considered the largest southern live oak, named the Seven Sisters Oak. This magnificent Louisiana tree bears seven sets of branches leading away from the center trunk and spreading to a mighty crown of 139 feet. The limbs, each massive as the trunk a lesser oak, are decorated with Virginia creeper and resurrection ferns, and many bow gracefully to rest on the ground before rising skyward again. The ancient trunk is just shy of 39 feet in circumference, and I expect the multiple trunks and the convoluted growth is part of the reason for the wide range in age estimates (from 300 to over 1,200 years). I took a few photos, but the scale of such a tree really cannot be adequately captured except by standing under its canopy.
The National Champion tree stands on private property near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain; the owners maintain and care for the majestic oak. I am grateful to them for their care and for allowing the public access to the tree. I am also grateful to the generations who recognized the value of this legacy over the value of the timber or cleared yard space.