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Yes, live oak

Posted by Platypus on September 19, 2004

In Reply to: Live oaks? posted by Lotg on September 19, 2004

: Another strange thing I've found in my book...

: The author is setting the scene, she says... "We drove by the Old MIssion and on past Rocky Nook Park. The live oaks stretched overhead, gnarled and dark... she later continued to mention sycamores and other trees, but didn't bother to prefix them with 'live'.

: I looked it up and this is what I found:

: noun: any of several American evergreen oaks

: Here's my problem. When people describe greenery they don't usually bother to prefix it with 'live'. It does generally seem to be a given. Otherwise, I think it more likely you'd point out they were dead. She didn't use capitals, hence my confusion - yet as the above MW definition implies, it's a generic term for American oaks. We have a squillion (technical term - and not scientifically substantiated) varieties of gum tree (Eucalypts) and when we describe an area we don't say 'live gum trees' to cover the generic brands.

: Does anyone know why this generic description came to be something as, I would have thought obvious and superfluous and 'live'? Presumably the sycamores are alive too.

Live oak is a specific variety of oak tree, Quercus virginiana. They are a symbol of the South. The trees which line the approaches to antebellum mansions are often live oak. They harbour spanish moss and live for centuries. One of the most beautiful trees I've ever seen is a live oak on the University of Alabama campus. It's almost 200 years old. A building blocks it from the rising sun and it has very little growth on the eastern side. But, on the west, it stretches-out over 100 feet chasing the setting sun. It's trunk is as wide as a truck and the western bough extends so far it almost touches the ground.

The reason for saying "live oak" is they are quite different from most other oaks: red oak, white oak, bur oak, sawtooth oak, etc. Live oaks have small willowy leaves that feel leathery. They have massive trunks and tend to grow out more than up. The live oak gets it's name because they keep their leaves until spring when the new leaves bud. Most, perhaps all?, other oaks drop their leaves in the fall.