City Trees

January/February 2013

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SMA Presents the 2013 Urban Tree of the Year: Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) Massive southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) was bested by little redbud in the 2010 SMA Urban Tree of the Year election. As this was announced at the SMA conference banquet in Savannah, Georgia of all places, many live oak fans cried, "We was robbed!" Those old wounds can now begin to compartmentalize as live oak gets its proper due as the 2013 SMA Urban Tree of the Year. Southern live oak is a decurrent tree with low, arching, wide-spreading branches. Depending on climate, its ultimate height ranges from 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 m) and width ranges from 50 to 80 feet (15 to 24 m) or more. It is reliably hardy to Zone 7b. Southern live oak, the state tree of Georgia, is native to U.S. coastal regions from Virginia south to Florida and west to Texas, but it can be planted effectively in coastal areas all the way up to Washington State. It can freely hybridize with other oaks including swamp white oak (Q. bicolor) and bur oak (Q. macrocarpa). Southern live oak's suitability for urban use comes from its salt tolerance, ability to tolerate both dry soils and seasonally wet ones, tolerance of soils both acidic and alkaline, ability to grow in part shade, wind resistance, and lack of major pests. Distinguishing One's Live Oaks live oak is, well, more than just a live oak! A Live oak can be used as a common name for several live oaks, namely southern (Q. virginiana), coast (Q. agrifolia), interior (Q. wislizeni), and canyon (Q. chrysolepis) live oaks. Southern live oak is the quintessential moss-draped oak [regaled here, as Tree of the Year]. Coast, interior, and canyon live oaks are found primarily in California. During my tenure in that state, I had the opportunity to work with all three of the California live oaks. Of the three, coast live oak was the most suited for use as a street tree. Interior live oak tended to be smaller, with a bushier canopy, as did canyon live oak. Both were good trees for sites off of the streets. —Chris Boza, City Forester, Hayden, Idaho 14 The Professionals on Southern Live Oak ost people don't know one tree from M another. That's to be expected, but live oak is one of those trees that just about everybody knows, can identify, and more importantly, loves. In the Gulf South they routinely live upwards of 300 years, a fact that provokes awe and a certain jealousy among us humans. Their physical strength, wondrous canopies, and nearevergreen nature serve to connect us with the past. I remember once in the early 1990s when R.J. Laverne (then with ACRT) visited Baton Rouge as a consultant to help us craft an urban forestry management plan. Having come down from Maine, he explained to me that he'd never really seen a live oak, so I took him on a tour that started with one of our older specimens. The thing I recall most was R.J.'s absolute wonder as he walked beneath the huge canopy and cradling low-draping limbs, just quietly touching and gazing at the thing like he was a child who'd just walked into Disneyland. Now, it's true that live oaks are not for everybody. They are enormous and greedy devourers of physical space. They eat sidewalks and curbs for lunch. They are no respecters of underground nor overhead space and frequently come into conflict with utilities. They also possess a disturbing predilection for included bark (when grown from random seedlings). On the other hand, their low green canopies shield us from hurricane winds. Their strength and durability often keep them alive through the most egregious construction abuse. Their ecological value is as enormous as their size, and their cultural value is indescribably deep and wide, from the lumber in Cajun cabins to the massive ribs of Old Ironsides. It's fitting that an oak that's not really in the red oak or white oak class and not really evergreen nor deciduous should stand as the representative, in many people's minds, of an entire genus. It's also fitting that specimens that have stood naturally on my own native soil since the days before my own town even existed should be honored by SMA collectively with their mighty kinfolk across America. It just feels right. —Steve Shurtz, Urban Forestry & Landscape Manager, Department of Public Works, City of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (right) Live oaks give ideal filtered shade to azaleas in Savannah. • Photo by Bill Haws City Trees

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