I just returned from an oak hunting trip through Acadiana to locate the ten oldest live oaks in the area in and around Lafayette, Louisiana. The local tree conservation group, Trees Acadiana, began tracking the oldest area live oaks in the past few years, asking their members and friends to submit favorite old oaks for consideration.
Several of the oaks on Trees Acadiana’s list are from the Live Oak Society’s database of trees that have been registered in the area over the past 75 years. And unfortunately, a few of these trees haven’t been seen or re-measured since they were registered decades ago. In the early days, when trees were registered with the Live Oak Society, details of their location were often minimal – sometimes registration was on a small note card and included only the town or parish where an oak was growing along with the sponsor’s name. Now, two generations later, original sponsors have passed on, properties have changed hands, and the memory of a specific old oak can be pretty fuzzy with local residents.
A few of the oaks on the Trees Acadiana list are near or greater than 30 feet in circumference. This is significant in that there are less than 20 live oaks in Louisiana of this size and age. And how old is a 30-foot oak? Age estimates vary, but according to Lafayette area arborist Jim Foret, who has extensive experience with Louisiana live oaks, the most likely estimate is between 400 and 500 years of age. An oak’s size can be influenced by how rich the soil is in which it’s growing, its access to water, and environmental influences like pollution and incursion by foot or vehicle traffic that can impact its root system.
Still, that means 30-foot oaks were mature and growing before Europeans began settling this country – before America was America. For that reason alone, these elder trees should have a more significant place in the cultural and historic awareness of our population, with some minimal protection for them to live to whatever ripe old age a live oak can live. That’s why local organizations like Trees Acadiana are dedicated to reminding people of the importance of live oaks and other trees for the health and beauty of a community.
My goal on this recent trip was to find and verify as many of these top 10 oaks as possible, and share my photos, locations, and new measurements with the folks from Trees Acadiana for their record keeping.
Here’s their top 10 list and a summary of my findings from the trip:
#3 La Belle Coline Oak (30’+) – Between Carencro and Sunset, LA – Location was verified with Lafayette area arborist Jim Foret, but I was unable to get permission to go onto the property where the tree lives (will revisit in the future).
#5 Pete Broussard Oak (28′ 6″) – Near Breaux Bridge, LA; unable to locate.
#7 Lady Suzan Oak – Near Breaux Bridge, LA (Located oak that is reported to be Lady Suzan, but the measurement was much smaller than when it was registered.)
#9 Rhett Butler Oak (27′ 2″) – Lafayette; located tree but was unable to photograph.
#10 Hooper O’Day Oak (25′ 5″) – Lafayette; located tree but was unable to photograph.
Many thanks to Sarah Schoeffler and Theresa Rohloff with Trees Acadiana for all of their help locating the oaks, and special thanks to Jim Foret for gaining access to the Cathedral Oak and for arriving at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday to help measure the tree.