The Mighty Southern Live Oak Tree

The live oak in the front yard of Frampton Plantation is estimated to be around 300 years old. Photo by Lowcountry Tourism Commission.

When you think of the south, you conjure images of the mighty live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss. These magnificent trees stand sentry around homes and lead the way down country lanes. The specimens that surround Frampton Plantation House have been around for 300 years. In fact, it was noted that after the original house was burned during the Civil War, the home was rebuilt in a different spot between four live oaks. All four trees are still alive and thriving today. In fact, these very trees have been reaching for the sun since c.1743.

Picnic under the southern live oaks in the backyard of Frampton Plantation Visitors Center. We’re conveniently located off I-95, at Exit 33 in Yemassee. Photo by Carmen Pinckney.

Live Oak trees are always up for company. Along the southern coast, live oaks live life beside Spanish moss and resurrection fern. Neither plant causes harm, they both feed from humidity and air. Resurrection fern grows along the tops of branches, turning green during rain and humidity, then brown when the air is dry. Spanish moss drapes gracefully from branches, feeding from water and nutrients found in the air.

Live oak branches tend to grow horizontally, dipping down then reaching back up toward the sun. This Tomotley Plantation tree is no exception. Photo by CJ Brown.

The branches of southern live oaks tend to grow horizontally, spreading across the landscape. Being a product of the south, I can attest to the fact that they make great climbing trees. If you were lucky enough to grow up with a live oak in your yard, there were always hordes of kids who wanted to climb, swing or picnic in the shade of these magnificent trees.  

Spanish moss and live oaks make a perfect backdrop for a Lowcountry wedding. Cotton Hall Plantation is available for just such an occasion. Photo by Cotton Hall.

Live oaks can grow to a height of 80 feet high. Given the room to grow, they can spread 100 feet wide. They grow at a rate of 13 – 24 inches per year. They grow in sun and shade and will thrive in just about any kind of soil. They can be found along the beach, deep in the forest, and everywhere in between. Mature live oaks can have a diameter of 6 feet. Some of the oldest live oaks are estimated to be several hundred to more than a thousand years old.

This 300 year old live oak stands watch in front of the Frampton Plantation house. Photo by Lowcountry Tourism Commission.

Southern live oak trees are nearly evergreen. They replace their leaves sporadically, so we never notice their shedding process. They produce sweet acorns that are a favorite food source of both birds and mammals. Wild turkey and deer are especially fond of this delicacy.

While live oaks can be found from Virginia to Florida and as far west as Texas and Oklahoma, the Southern live oak grows best in salty soils along the coast. Like most southerners, this tree is particularly fond of warm temperatures and salty breezes.

This lovely home on Hampton Street in Walterboro has a yard complete with a live oak. Photo by Lowcountry Tourism Commission.

The wood from southern live oaks is very dense and strong. It was once a preferred wood for shipbuilding. The naval vessel USS Constitution was made from the wood of live oaks. Repeated cannon fire could not destroy the ship during the War of 1812. The British cannons literally bounced off the live oak hull of the ship. The ship was nicknamed “Old Ironsides” after it survived the attack. Many older homes are floored with wood from these magnificent trees. Oak flooring is durable and takes on a golden hue with age and wear.  Structural beams and posts were also made from the strong wood of live oaks.

Live oak alleys can be seen throughout the Lowcountry. Some of the most popular can be found on Edisto Island and Lady’s Island, Beaufort. Many older plantation properties are distinguished by their alley of live oaks. Planted on both sides of lanes, the branches reach across and form a canopy across the roadways. Old Sheldon Road is a wonderful example of a live oak canopy. Nestled between Yemassee and Beaufort, this road leads to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins.

Old Sheldon road connects with Cotton Hall Road. This canopied road is home to several plantation entrances with live oak alleys. Both Tomotley and Cotton Hall Plantation entrances are visible. Yemassee’s McPhersonville Road is another great place to view a canopy.

Iconic oak alleys can be found on the route to Edisto Beach. ACE Basin and Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Areas both have canopied entrances. They can be accessed via Highway 174.

Most of Bluffton’s Hwy 46 is covered in a live oak canopy. Pinckney Colony is lined with aged oaks as well.

The Beaufort Sea Islands are also great places to spend the day driving under the oaks. Coffin Point, Meridian and Lands End Road are good examples.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and Hwy 17 just south of Ridgeland are good spots in Jasper County to view the trees. Colleton County’s Donnelley Wildlife Management Area is another great place to drive through and see live oaks. Hampton County’s Webb Wildlife Management Area also has many examples of southern live oaks.

Resurrection fern is best seen after a good rain. This live oak can be found in the backyard of Frampton Plantation Visitors Center in Yemassee. Photo by Carmen Pinckney.
Resurrection fern and Spanish moss intermingle along the branches of this southern live oak tree that can be found in the front yard of Frampton Plantation Visitors Center. Photo by Carmen Pinckney.

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The Lowcountry & Resort Islands Region of South Carolina includes the four, southern-most counties in the state, Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, and Colleton, which are bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by the Savannah River and the state of Georgia.

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Spanish moss drapes the live oak trees that are ubiquitous to the Edisto Island area. Did you know that Edisto gets its name from the native Edistow people? The Edistow Native Americans were a sub tribe of the Cusabo indians, a group of Native Americans who lived along the Atlantic coast in South Carolina.⏰ Best time of the day to visit: Stop by mid-morning. That way you can explore the island, grab lunch, and stay for the amazing sunset if you choose.🏖️ Things to do while there: Edisto Environmental Learning Center, Boneyard Beach, Scott Creek Inlet, Big Bay Creek, SeaCow Eatery.☀️ Things to visit in the area: Jungle Road Park, Bay Creek Park, Otter Islands, Spanish Mount Point.📆 Best time of the year to visit: For warmer weather come anywhere from March-August.🏨 Where to stay: Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort (frippislandrsrt), Seabrook Island Club (seabrook_sc), The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort (kiawahresort), Charleston Kiawah Island/Andell Inn (andellinn).Photo by qcphotographer
Riding into the weekend like...Isn't this live oak tree tunnel beautiful? Live oak, draped in Spanish moss, is emblematic of South Carolina and many of the Southern states. We love these iconic trees, not only for their beauty, but their history as well. The average lifespan of a live oak is 300 years!Photo by qcphotographer
Discover at your own leisure at the coastaldiscoverymuseum 🌳  From century-old buildings with storied pasts, to wooden boardwalks that stretch into the Jarvis Creek salt marsh, there's always something to explore!
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A visitor takes a leisurely stroke under a canopy of live oaks draped with Spanish moss in the Palmetto Bluff (palmettobluff) neighborhood of Bluffton, South Carolina. Palmetto Bluff is a picturesque community that sits in the heart of Lowcountry. Nestled along the May River, it’s abundant with beautiful walking trails, historic sites, and stunning views.⏰ Best time of the day to visit: There is no wrong time to visit Palmetto Bluff. However, we highly recommend sticking around for one of their spectacular sunsets.🛶 Things to do while there: Stop by Cole’s for some regionally inspired Southern fare, paddle board, kayak, or canoe along the May River, go saltwater fishing, take a tour at Bluffton Jack's Old Town Tours.🌊 Things to visit in the area: Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, Old Town Bluffton, Bluffton Oyster Factory Park, May River Sandbar, Heyward House Museum and Welcome Center (heywardhouse).📆 Best time of the year to visit: For the best weather, we recommend visiting between March and May or from September to November.🏨 Where to stay: The Montage Palmetto Bluff Resort (montagepalmettobluff) is the only resort in Palmetto Bluff. However, there are plenty of places to stay in the surrounding areas including: Old Town Bluffton Inn (oldtownblufftoninn), The Inn & Club at Harbour Town (theinnandclubatharbourtown), Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island (sonestahhi).Photo by jpgriceoz
Hope you’ve had a beautiful Saturday in South Carolina! #DiscoverSC 📸📍: Botany Bay: donniewhitaker
Geminid Meteor Shower under a canopy of fall leaves 🍁✨ Shot from a pitch black dirt road in the South Carolina Lowcountry
Wonderful being in the Lowcountry again for the holiday! #sclowcountry
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A gorgeous mushroom shows off on Edisto Island. #mushrooms #fantasticfungi #wildmushrooms #beachmushrooms #islandlife #mushroomphotography #toadstools #forestlover #woodland #woodlandphotography #forestcore #woodlandaesthetic #cottagecore #fairycore #magicforest #sclowcountry #edistoisland #fypシ #allthemushroomtags #takeawalk #observenature
Entering Shem Creek#shemcreek #shemcreeksc #onlyinsouthcarolina #sclowcountry #southcarolina #southcarolinaliving #coastalsouth #coastalliving #thecoastwiththemost #charlestonsc #shrimpboats #shrimpers #creekboats #waterscapephotography #waterscape #waterview
Here’s some good news to start your weekend with: Cypress Gardens is close to making a comeback, after being shut down for nearly 3 years. 🌱 Berkeley County officials say they’re hoping to have the clean-up + restoration (which has been going on since the gardens were damaged in the October 2015 floods) complete by late summer. // 📸: ohheyitsjesss
Fresh off the easel, 16x20 titled “Moonlight on the Marsh”.
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There is something majestic about Spanish moss! Spanish moss is very prevalent in the lowcountry adding an extra layer of beauty to the trees. Spanish moss is a flowering plant that is neither Spanish, nor a moss. It is a bromeliad that grows hanging from tree branches in a chain-like manner. The plant is particularly fond of live oak and bald cypress trees that grow in the lowlands, swamps and savannas of the south. This photo was taken in our neighborhood. 🤎🌳
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