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Tree (rarely shrub) to 35 m, 4 m dbh, trunk stubby and often buttressed, with wide-spreading branches forming a dense rounded crown. Bark dark reddish brown, rough and gnarled, furrowed with square plates. Branchlets pale yellow or grey and minutely pubescent. Leaves evergreen or partially deciduous, (1–)3.5–9(–15) × (1.5–)2–4(–8.5) cm, obovate to oblanceolate, upper surface dark or light green and glossy, glabrous or with a few stellate hairs, lower surface white to glaucous with a dense covering of minute stellate hairs, 6–9(–12) secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins minutely revolute, entire or with one to three irregular teeth on each side of the leaf, apex obtuse to rounded or acute; petiole 0.1–1(–2) cm long. Infructescence 1–2 cm long with one to three cupules. Cupule hemispheric or goblet-shaped, 0.8–1.5 × 0.8–1.5 cm, base often constricted; scales whitish grey and keeled, tips red and acute. Acorn ovoid or barrel-shaped, with one-third to half of its length enclosed in the cupule, 1.5–2.5 cm long, stylopodium short. Live oak seedlings form a swollen underground tuber and may reproduce clonally, particularly when young. Flowering April, fruiting September (USA). Nixon 1997. Distribution USA: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia. Habitat Evergreen woodland and scrub on the Coastal Plain between 0 and 200 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Conservation status Least Concern. Illustration Nixon 1997, Sternberg 2004; NT757. Cross-reference K111.
The Live Oak of the American South is a splendid tree with wide-spreading branches that can live to great age: one estimated to be 1200 years old is known at Lewisburg, Louisiana (Landry 2005). It is strongly associated with many of the fine old gardens and parks of the southern states, although there are some who feel that due to a lack of imagination in the horticultural and landscaping trades it has been over-planted and forms almost a monoculture in some places (Ware 1995a). Sternberg (2004) illustrates some magnificent examples, and discusses its cultural and horticultural significance in considerable detail. Its characteristic hoary appearance comes from it often being draped with Spanish Moss Tillandsia usneoides (Ellis 1996), an association that may supply a clue to the poor performance of this oak in areas with cooler, less humid summers. Despite its occurrence as far north as Virginia – and Sternberg (2004) emphasises that for success in such northern areas, northern provenances must be used – Quercus virginiana has never been much use in Europe, where it misses the steamy warmth of its native habitat. The two trees at Chevithorne Barton (the only ones traced in England) are very unhappy-looking, with stunted growth. Michael Heath-coat Amory records that although one had reached 1.8 m in six years it was still 1.8 m at nine years. By 2008, when 12 years old, it had achieved 2 m, and the other 2.3 m (A. Coombes, pers. comm. 2008). The species is a calcifuge (Hillier & Coombes 2002).