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Southern Live Oaks

Where I live in northwest New Mexico, I don't see southern live oak trees. They grow in southern states and have their own special look. Their trunks lounge along the ground, then lift into the air, creating a maze of designs. Some are draped with moss.


Thanks to the April/May 2023 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, I learned some interesting things about these trees whose artistic limbs beckon children to climb them.


According to the article written by Shannon Sims, the southern live oaks are very strong. When hurricanes uproot some trees, people have safely ridden out the storms by clinging to oak limbs. The trees' deep roots hold fast to the ground.


Not only are the trees strong, but they can live a very long time. Some of them are more than a thousand years old. They are also a food source. The trees' acorns have been ground into meal as far back as during pre-Columbian America.


The U.S. Navy has used southern live oaks to build ship hulls because the wood is so sturdy. Way back in 1797, the Navy launched the USS Constitution. It's still afloat today. During the War of 1812, it earned the nickname "Old Ironsides" because its hull withstood attacks from British cannons.


The trees are especially good at absorbing carbon, which helps to combat climate change. The more carbon that trees can absorb, the less stays in the atmosphere. That helps to keep the earth from warming quite so fast.


The Louisiana Garden Club Federation has an organization called the Live Oak Society. There is only one human member. Her name is Coleen Perilloux Landry. She helps to protect the trees from being cut down when just a trim would be enough to satisfy the needs of, for example, utility companies. The president of the society is a 1,200-year-old oak with a trunk more than ten feet around.


You can see southern live oaks in other states too, among them Virginia, Texas, Arizona and South Carolina. One of the most famous live oaks is called Angel Oak. It's on Johns Island in South Carolina and is estimated to be more than 400 years old.


Southern live oaks provide shelter for many interesting woodland creatures. Two of them are the barking tree frog and the ferruginous pygmy owl. The owls like to build nests in holes that woodpeckers left in the trees. Barking tree frogs have fingers and toes that create a lot of suction, so they can jump around in the trees like acrobats.

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