Friday, November 18, 2016

Live Oaking

Some years ago cousin Blanche told me that eighteenth and nineteenth century ship builders sometimes came to Ocracoke offering considerable sums of money to buy live oaks. As John Bartram, Botanist to His Majesty for the Floridas, wrote in 1766, "The live oak (so called from being an evergreen) is tougher, and of a better grain than the English oak, and is highly esteemed for shipbuilding."


In her excellent book, Live Oaking, Southern Timber for Tall Ships, Virginia Steele Wood writes, "Precisely when live oak was first used in constructing sailing vessels along the American coast is unknown, but eventually it became so important for the building of tall ships that expeditions sailed southward for the sole purpose of cutting and carrying off the timber to northern shipyards; it fulfilled their requirements for a variety of shapes and permitted them to avoid the weakening effect of crossgrain cuts. With its great tensile strength and resistance to rot, even when exposed to constant wetting and drying, it was ideally durable for wooden ships."

Ocracoke has had the good fortune of not having all of its live oaks cut down for ship building. At least six large trees (three on Howard Street, two at Springer's Point, and one at Old Hammock) are large enough (eight feet in girth) to be members of the Live Oak Society. Click here to view the registry that includes the Ocracoke trees. 

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is about earthquakes that have affected Ocracoke and the Outer Banks. You can read the newsletter here:   


  1. Kevin2:15 PM

    Wow! How old is a 17'-circumference live oak, I wonder?

    1. An arborist tells us it is impossible to determine the age of a live oak without boring a hole in it or cutting it down. So, we just estimate. 17'...maybe 500 or more years old??? I don't know.