Many traits empower the mighty oak

Florida is proud of its legacy of southern live oaks.

The mighty oak often is symbolic of strength and nobility. This is a keystone species because it supports other species in an ecosystem. There are about 90 oak varieties native to the United States.

For its seed and fruit, the oak produces acorns. About 24 species of birds and other creatures feed on these. Depending on the oak species, it takes 20 to 30 years for a tree to produce acorns — as small as a pea or as big as a jawbreaker.  Ralph Waldo Emerson claimed, "The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn."

Significant traits empower the oak. The trunk stores water for dry periods.  The complex root system serves as an anchor. The thick bark shields it from fire. Its tannic acid guards against fungal and insect invasions.

At times, the oak’s height and moisture creates a susceptibility to lightning strikes. Incidentally, the solitary white oak highlighted in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" was split by lightning and later collapsed by strong winds.

Commercially, the dense and durable oak is processed for such products as furniture, flooring or barrels to age liquor. White oak resists water and is used for outdoor furniture. Regrettably, the sturdy oak often served as a hanging tree in the Wild West.

Before the 19th century, wood was used for shipbuilding. Because of its stability, oak was in demand. Indeed, planks made of oak were used on high-status Viking longships. Southern live oak (of iron-like strength) and white oak were used for the hull of the USS Constitution, launched in 1797. In the War of 1812, British cannon fire bounced off the ship’s impenetrable wooden hull — thus, the name Old Ironsides.

Emblematic of the South is the live oak, commonly referred to as the southern live oak. Nearly evergreen, it replaces its leaves during a short period in the spring. Adding to its splendor are descending limbs reaching to the ground, draped with Spanish moss. Some might survive more than 1,000 years. 

Legacy trees (of notable value) are frequently the majestic southern live oaks of the Deep South antebellum plantations. The historic Oak Alley Plantation (sugarcane) in Vacherie, Louisiana features the grandeur of 28 live oaks, approximately 300 years old, forming a canopied alley 800 feet in length. The avenue leads from the home to the Mississippi. Part of the movie "Interview wth the Vampire" was filmed there.

Florida also is proud of its legacy of southern live oaks. The largest is the Cellon Oak in Cellon Oak Park, Gainesville. It displays a crown spread of 160 feet and  is approximately 198 years old. Likewise dramatic is Treaty Oak of Jacksonville with a crown spread of 145 feet and possibly 250 years old.  

In Britain, the biggest oak tree is the Major Oak in the midst of Sherwood Forest. It is an English oak with a spread of 92 feet and is 800 to 1,000 years old; possibly, it encompasses multiple saplings fused together. Legend claims that it sheltered Robin Hood and his merry men.

True, there are many mighty oaks. The grandest is encircled with a yellow ribbon.