SMA Announces its 2013 Urban Tree of the Year: Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
The Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA), comprised of 1400 urban forestry professionals worldwide, has chosen Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) as its 2013 Urban Tree of the Year. The selection must be adaptable to a variety of harsh growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. The Tree of the Year program has been running for 17 years, and past honorees include Accolade elm (2012) goldenraintree (2011), redbud (2010), Chinkapin oak (2009), black tupelo (2008), baldcypress (2007), and Kentucky coffeetree (2006).
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. This 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.
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.
Steve Shurtz, urban forestry & landscape manager for the City of Baton Rouge, Louisiana says, “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.”
Michael Pavlis, tree maintenance supervisor for the City of Savannah, Georgia says, “Aside from the environmental benefits, live oaks can compartmentalize very well when injured, so they don’t decay rapidly like other trees. Most of the deadwood is strong and secure, making them safer compared to other trees with similar diameters of deadwood.”
The SMA recognizes the majestic Southern live oak for its service to urban forests and encourages its use when matched appropriately to site and as part of a diverse urban tree inventory.