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Live Oaks and the Georgia Coast

While the live oak already serves as Georgia’s official state tree, if one tree was selected to represent just the Georgia coast, it would have to be Quercus virginianan. The live oak earns its name from the fact that it appears to retain its leaves year-round, thus always be “live.” Actually, the tree drops its leaves on its own schedule from October to April. The live oak’s timber is resistant to rot and weathering, and was prized for shipbuilding in the nineteenth century for its toughness and odd shape that could be fashioned into key elements of ship design. Today, its twisted, tough grain makes it unpopular as lumber: Just try splitting a log with an ax. Live oaks thrive in poor, sandy soils of the Coastal Plain of the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf states, and have a shallow, spreading root system. The tree grows very quickly, causing some to overestimate the age of a favorite live oak on their property. The favorite saying is that live oaks spend 100 years growing, 100 living, and 100 years dying. As you travel the coast, you may notice that live oaks take many shapes, from more spindly oaks with a pruned, thick canopy in a maritime forest, to the singular specimens that grow huge, spreading trunk-sized branches in more open areas. The largest live oak in Georgia is near Baptist Village, Waycross. It is 86 feet high, has a trunk diameter of 10 feet and a 143-foot crown, which shades almost half an acre.

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