This blog chronicles my search to document the 100 oldest and most notable live oak trees in Louisiana. The elder oaks included in this project are primarily “centenarians” – more than 100 years old. Their sizes range from approximately 17 ft. to 40 ft. in circumference and their lives span a time period stretching between 100 to 600+ years, over several human generations. The oldest oaks documented here were possibly mature trees before Europeans settled Louisiana in the early 1700s.
This project began with a search for the original 43 live oaks that in 1934 became charter members of the Live Oak Society. In that year, Dr. Edwin L. Stephens proposed creating an organization comprised of 100+ year old live oaks in an article he wrote for the Louisiana Conservation Review. From my original search, I found that almost 20% of the original 43 member trees had been lost in the 80 or so years since the Live Oak Society was founded — mostly due to urban expansion, development, storms, pollution, decreasing soil quality, and old age.
The ultimate goal of this effort is to raise awareness for the importance of old live oak trees as an important cultural and historic resource. Every old oak has generations of human stories associated with it and when these trees are gone, part of our local history and culture dies with them.
Live oaks are heritage, heirlooms, and history all rolled into one. On the old land maps, oaks marked where one property line ended and another began. They were a point on the horizon to aim the blade of a plow or the nose of a tractor. They mark where back roads cross and provide a shady spot where neighbors can park their pickups, pass a plastic thermos cup of chicory coffee, and discuss the weather. Duels were fought and honor won or lost under their bowed limbs. People picnic under them, get married under them, dance the two-step under them, and finally when the music ends, are laid to rest alongside their massive roots.
Most areas of Louisiana and the South don’t have laws protecting these gentle icons of Southern culture from removal or abuse by humans and so each year we lose a part of our history and a valuable ecological resource.