Living Oaks are part of Texas history

A trip to the seaside doesn’t always conjure up visions of living oak trees, but that’s exactly what comes to mind in Rockport.

The first time I visited the area was a quick drive on the way to Corpus Christi two years after Hurricane Harvey. In addition to the damage that was still apparent in Rockport at this time, one area that caught my eye was a cluster of windswept live oak trees whose branches were strewn with herons.

We stopped in the small parking lot on the property. The lot had only been built about a month before the storm that would change the history of the small town. The 8.8-acre green space was given an official name, Bent Oak Rookery Park, after the hurricane, but it had already been in the care of the City of Rockport since 2016 when they bought the land for nearly $3. millions of dollars. The intention was to preserve the federally protected colony, home to great blue herons and great egrets.

My description is exactly how trees are commonly referred to: windswept oaks. The trees here have to struggle against the constant inland wind, so they grow shorter and more horizontally than most, especially those directly over the water.

The Big Tree is another local live oak celebrity just north of Rockport on the Lamar Peninsula, a stone’s throw from St. Charles’ Bay. Located in Goose Island State Park, this long-lived oak tree is more upright, unlike those growing in the Colony, but wears its history like a royal robe.

Although it is no longer the largest living oak tree (it reigned from 1969 to 2003), it is the oldest in Texas and bears an impressive trunk over 35 feet in circumference. It is 44 feet tall. Most estimates date this tree to between 1,100 and 2,000 years old. Even at a young age, that’s a lot of life for a tree that has had to withstand many hurricanes. Interestingly, this girl survived 130 mph winds during Harvey, unlike the surrounding young live oaks. I read a very apt quote for the big tree, as well as for us humans: “You don’t grow old by being weak.

Live oaks closer to you

living oaks, Quercus virginiana, around Houston may not be windswept, but they still possess an impressive beauty, especially if left to grow as they should: branched wide and low. Their evergreen appearance is exciting, as they are not true evergreens. When March arrives, the oak trees gradually shed old leaves and sprout new ones. This never fails to worry loving tree owners, but the answer to their question is the same. The tree is OK during this period of leaf replacement, unless new leaves come in behind the lost ones.

However, the effects of this year’s drought could have lasting impacts depending on your individual conditions.

Should you plant a live oak tree on your property? The answer is simple, but complicated. It’s simple because they love the sun, grow all over Texas except closer to begging, aren’t very fussy, and once established they tend to withstand harsh environmental conditions.

It’s complicated because properties around Houston tend to lack the space to grow such a tree, but homeowners still insist on planting one. In this case, they tend to prune those very branches that make live oak trees look majestic.

Live oaks are large trees that can reach over 50 feet tall and 60 feet wide. They need a large space to grow into the beast they are meant to be. They are not ideal trees for shrubs and grass to grow underneath, especially as they mature. Cohabitation is possible as long as they are young, but age and size increase their water needs. This strips the soil from most understory plants, with the exception of strong-willed groundcovers.

The saying “plant the right tree in the right place” is not just meant to be an action item that homeowners should choose wisely based on their maintenance goals. It is also used to defend a tree or shrub, so that it can grow in its most natural state.

If you choose to add a live oak tree to your property, tree planting time is in the fall, not spring in our area. Roots need to get established before the battle with the summer sun. Avoid planting too deep and opt for shallow planting. The ground should be kept at the same level you bought the tree at, not piled on top of healthy bark. Water a new planting regularly for the first few months if there has been no rain, so it can focus on downward growth before pushing upward.

And remember, every tree we plant today can be a piece of history tomorrow.