Types of Local Oak Trees and Shrubs
number of types of oak trees and shrubs are native
to Beaufort and the surrounding Lowcountry. The following
list comes from Manual of Vascular Flora
of the Carolinas (Radford, Ahles &
Bell) and Guide to Southern Trees by
Ellwood S. Harrar. Height figures are given as available.
Oak or Bastard White Oak (Quercus austrina):
Restricted to the Lowcountry and to some central
areas in South Carolina, but found in some other
Deep-South states; Grows in rich, moist soil near
streams; Large tree.
Oak or Darlington Oak (Quercus laurifolia):
the coast through the Midlands, rare in Piedmont;
Low ground and sandy soils near streams and swamps;
Medium size to large tree (50-60 feet high, but
sometimes 100 feet; trunk diameter 3-4 feet).
Oak (Quercus virginiana):
Coast through Midlands; Sandy woods; Generally
a medium size tree (40-50 feet high; trunk diameter
Oak (Quercus myrtifolia):
Restricted to Beaufort County in S.C., but
also found in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi
; Sandy pine woods and ridges (seldom found far
from salt water); Large shrub or small tree (35
feet maximum height; trunk diameter 4-8 inches).
Oak (Quercus stellata): Found
in most parts of the state; Dry, poor or rich
soil; Small or medium-sized tree (about 50 feet
high; trunk diameter 18-22 inches).
Oak (Quercus pumila): Coast
through Midlands; Sandy pinelands; Shrub.
Post Oak (Quercus margaretta):
From the coast through Midlands; Sandy soil;
Small tree or shrub.
Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxi):
through Midlands and scattered in Piedmont; Low
ground; Large tree (135 feet or higher; trunk
diameter up to 8-9 feet).
Spanish Oak, Swamp Red Oak or Cherrybark Oak (Quercus
falcata, variety Quercus pagodaefolia):
through parts of central S. C., but occasionally
in the Piedmont; Bottom lands; Large tree (100-130
feet high; trunk diameter 3-5 feet).
Oak (Quercus laevis):
Coast through Midlands; Poor, sandy soil;
Small tree (20-30 feet high, and rarely 50-60
feet; trunk diameter 2 feet or smaller).
Willow Oak or Blue-Jack Oak (Quercus incana):
of coast to upper Midlands/lower Piedmont; Dry,
sandy soil; Small tree.
Oak (Quercus nigra):
Distributed throughout the state; Along streams
and low ground; Tall, slender tree (50-80 feet
high; trunk diameter 2-3 ½ feet).
Oak (Quercus phellos):
in most of the state; Low grounds; Medium size
to large tree (80-130 feet high; trunk diameter
Britannica online web site
reported that the live oak
"grows rapidly on good soil but is not
as long-lived as was once thought: the oldest
known specimens range in age from 200 to 300
years. Live oak derives its name from the fact
that it is evergreen and durable: lumbered or
injured trees send up many sprouts, which also
produce sprouts if cut themselves." A live
oak 50 feet high may have a limb spread exceeding
One of the old live oaks along Bay St., Beaufort
(Photograph by Dennis Adams)
History and Social Life
of Beaufort County's Oaks
grand a tree is more than the sum of its trunks and
branches. Druids honored oaks as hosts of the hallowed
mistletoe, and the trees have played a big role in
our own society.
Oak" in Bluffton
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 29, 2002)
"Secession Oak" may already have been
two centuries old on July 31, 1844, when as many
as 500 people met beneath its canopy. According
to Janice Hunter Cantrell (in the Bluffton Historical
Preservation Societys No. II: A Longer
Short History of Bluffton, South Carolina and
Its Environs, they had come to hear their
congressman, Robert Barnwell Rhett, "who
had been so vociferously agitating since the 1820s
Secession". And so began "The
Bluffton Movement", which "led to South
Carolinas withdrawal from the Union on December
20, 1860 the first state to secede."
Robert S. Jones, Jr., director of Blufftons
Heyward House Historic Center, drove us to the
Secession Oak (on the left-hand side of Verdier
Cove Road at Highway 46, just outside the town
limits on the Pritchardville side).
another gathering took place in Camp Saxton (an installation
of black Federal soldiers) on New Years Day
in 1863. In the January 1993 issue of The Beaufort
Countian, William H. Whitten described the
celebration at the reading of President Lincolns
Emancipation Proclamation to about 5,000 freed slaves
(officially "contraband" before the decree).
One participant recalled that "we followed the
crowd up to the grove of live-oaks with their moss
trimmings, which did not look so dreary under a winters
sun, but very summer-like and beautiful." Sea
Island churches still observe "Watch Night"
each December 31 to mark the event (see Cathy Carter
Harleys December 26, 1999 Beaufort Gazette
article). These "Emancipation Oaks"
still stand on the Naval Hospital grounds; look back
toward Ribaut Road from the tabby ruins of the 1732
British Fort Frederick to see them.
Head Island hosts a more recent but deep-rooted
oak tradition of its own. Islanders and visitors
have come to hear Gregg Russell sing under Harbor
Towns "Liberty Oak" for more than
20 years. Russell performs from Memorial Day to Labor
Day, and on special occasions.
"Angel Oak" (65 feet tall, 25 ½ feet in
circumference, with one limb 89 feet long) casts shade
over an area of 17,000 feet and may well be the king
of the Lowcountry forest. But any old oak whose branches
have grown to touch the ground can claim the title
of "angel oak".
presence or absence of oak trees can
even make or break a landmark. In 1974, William Hilton
Parkway (Highway 278) was declared an official Scenic
Route because of the oaks that lined that roadway
to Hilton Head Island. The recent wide-scale clearing
of trees for highway expansion has brought reconsideration
of that "scenic" status, however.
Beaufort County landmarks bear the "oak"
name. Gerhard Spieler (Beaufort Gazette
issue of October 6, 1981) reported that "throughout
the literature of the Civil War years in Beaufort,
there is mention of The Oaks Plantation
on St. Helena Island. E. L. Pierce, one of the organizers
of the change from a slave to a free labor economy,
made it his headquarters.
It was there that,
together with her friend, Miss Ellen Murray, (Laura
Towne) began a school which later became Penn School."
Council of Governments Historic Resources
of the Lowcountry mentions "Seven Oaks"(the
Baynard House, on Calhoun Street in Bluffton), "typical
of Lowcountry style houses built before and after
the Civil War.
The house is surrounded by live
oaks (and) cedars
". The Paul Hamilton
House (100 Laurens Street, Beaufort) dates from around
1856 and is known as "The Oaks": this part
Beaufort-style, part Victorian mansion served as Hospital
No. 1 during the Civil War.
trees line both sides of the unpaved "Avenue
of Oaks", which begins at the gates of Coffin
Point Plantation on Saint Helena Island. Drive to
the end of Coffin Point Road (off Highway 21) for
this half-mile vault of oak limbs with their thick
marveled at the huge Beaufort oak that co-starred
with Kevin Costner in the 1994 film, The War
. That photogenic tree is located at the entrance
to Carolina Shores at the end of Carolina Avenue,
off Bruce K. Smalls Drive (intersecting with U. S.
Highway 21 in the Gray's Hill area, past the Marine
Corps Air Station). The oak appeared also in Forrest
Gump, filmed the same year.
arent the only art form inspired by our oaks.
Photographers capture the trees along the high bluffs
of Beauforts Bay Street every day. The Library
sells reproductions of Neils Chistensens copy
of John Barnwell Campbells lost 1798 view of
Bay Street across the river, where two oaks command
the foreground. And "Old Oaks in Winter",
a haiku poem by University of South Carolina School
of Library and Information Science professor Linda
Lucas Walling, leaves an affectionate impression of
Beauforts largest living creatures:
warm in mossy
Lowcountry Oaks Restore Historic Ships:
Constitution ("Old Ironsides")
and the Slave Ship, Amistad
from the South Carolina Lowcountry had been part of
the of the original Constitution (built
in 1794 and nicknamed "Old Ironsides" after
she withstood British bombardment in the War of 1812).
Almost two hundred years later, the restored "Ironsides"
gained new timber from Beaufort County oak trees.
Live oaks felled for local construction projects escaped
burning, thanks to the S. C. Department of Transportation,
the University of South Carolinas Institute
of Archeology and Anthropology, the U. S. Navy, and
the Marine Corps.
McFee, the D.O.T.s Resident Construction Engineer
for Beaufort County, had tried to find a public agency
that could make good use of six live oaks removed
in the building of the James Island connector in 1992.
Soon after U. S. C. s Institute informed McFee
of the project to restore the USS Constitution,
his department began supplying wood to rebuild the
ship. Choice pieces of oak eventually came from the
Parris Island entrance (cut during work on the Russell
Bell Bridge), the Hilton Head cross-island highway,
and other parts of Beaufort County through 1995. Road
projects in Jasper, Colleton, Charleston, Berkeley
and Dorchester Counties provided even more of the
to nautical archeologist Jim Spirek, the Constitution
was built before shipbuilders learned how to bend
or steam wood into shape. So the long, arching branches
made the best "knees" (or braces connecting
the hull of the ship to its deck floors). Although
live oak wood has no commercial value for modern shipbuilders,
it is still prized by those who restore historic vessels.
U. S. Navy was very excited to get ahold of this wood,"
said McFee, "because, understandably, this kind
of wood is pretty hard to come by."
Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station paid to have the
wood trucked to the Navys restoration project
in Massachusetts. "Old Ironsides" set sail
on Monday, July 21 , 1997 for the first time
in 116 years.
online Encyclopaedia Britannica
(www.britannica.com) confirms the USS
Constitution as the worlds oldest
commissioned warship still afloat. Although the
HMS Victory (1765)
is older, it now rests in a Portsmouth, England drydock.
a July 24, 2000 visit to the library, Robert McFee
said that six oaks cleared for the U. S. Highway 21
project on Ladys Island (SC 802 at Sams Point
Road) had lately gone to the restoration of the slave
ship Amistad in Mystic Seaport
(Connecticut). Slaves rebelled when that slaver sailed
near the Cuban coast on July 2, 1839. An unexpected
Supreme Court decision freed the Amistad
rebels in 1841.
with Michael McFee. July 24, 2000.
C. Oak Helped Restore Ironsides",
Beaufort Gazette staff report of July 22,
General Information About Oaks
are members of the larger beech family of trees
(Fagaceae), with its three genera: Fagus
(beech trees proper), Castanea (chestnuts
and chinkapins) and Quercus (oaks). There
are almost 300 species of Quercus, both
deciduous (leaf-shedding) and evergreen trees
35 species here in the South, oak trees are
a source of timber, tannin and yellow dye pigments.
"In the days of sailing ships," wrote
Ellwood S. Harrar, "the United States Navy
procured large holdings of live oak forests
for the exclusive use of the governments
shipyards. The large, massive, and arching limbs
were highly sought after for ship ribs and knees."
Not only squirrels, but pheasants, grouse, wild
turkeys, domestic hogs and humans have all eaten
oak acorns (the oil from live oak acorns has
even been used in cooking). Cork is the harvested
bark of two Mediterranean oak species.
tree growing around a
tombstone in Zion Cemetery,
Hilton Head Island
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(October 18, 2006)
venerable live oak on
Pigeon Point, in Beaufort
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 7, 2002)
to our Assistant Library Director Hillary
Barnwell and South Carolina Resources
Librarian Grace Cordial for
their "brainstorming" on this topic!