The Lafourche Historic Live Oak Tour

New Hope Plantation Oak, Matthews, LA

Dear readers, I’ve been hard at work on an entirely separate (but equal) blog site that grew out of my work on the 100 Oaks Project. In August, I was awarded a grant through the Bayou Lafourche Convention and Visitors Bureau to create a self-guided driving tour of the historic oaks along Bayou Lafourche.


General P.G.T Beauregard Oak, 20 ft. 2 in. in girth, located on LA Hwy. 1, at the E.D. White Memorial Home site.

For this grant project, I’m photographing historic live oaks around the parish and writing about the history of the people and events that have occurred around these old oaks for a website and brochure. I’m also creating and posting “waymarker signs” (like the image above) that will be located close to the oaks’ locations, near the two main highways that run on either side of Bayou Lafourche (LA Hwy. 1 and Hwy. 308).


Boudreaux Oak, 29 ft. 2 in. in girth, located near the community of St. Charles, LA Hwy 1

These way-marker signs will have numbers that a visitor can follow using a brochure, or the Tour website. The brochures and website will contain photographs of the trees (like those above) and provide a brief explanation of the significance of their location to the history of the parish. Visitors can take a self-guided driving tour along Bayou Lafourche and learn about the history of the parish through the location of our historic live oaks.

I will begin mirror-posting the Live Oak Tour site pages here, on the 100 Oaks Project site, since they are all part of the same work.  Enjoy!  And if you’d like to see the other site in its entirety, just go to

Jamie Oak, Hwy. 308, near Thibodaux

Revisiting the Lorenzo Dow Oak


Lorenzo Dow Oak in the rain, Grangeville Masonic Lodge grounds, 35′-8″ girth

Since moving to Bayou Lafourche last December, I regularly consult with the two old oaks in our front yard over photographic work matters. (Cyndi likes to say that I left the corporate world and now I’m employed full-time by the oak trees.) Crazy? Maybe. But the ideas I get when talking to the old oaks are at least as good as those from some of the human supervisors I’ve had over the years.

Last Saturday morning, after checking in with the front-yard oaks and the weather app on my phone, we decided to brave the impending thunderstorms and make a two-hour drive to Grangeville, LA, a postage-stamp-sized town near the Amite River just north and west of Pine Grove. Our objective was to re-photograph the Lorenzo Dow Oak (see my previous blog entry), a 35-foot-plus girth oak located on the grounds of the historic Grangeville Masonic Lodge.


Lorenzo Dow Oak, panoramic view, study 5

Threatening rain or not, we hit the road and arrived at Grangeville just as the first drops began to fall. I made a flurry of photos, trying to hold my baseball cap over my camera’s wide angle lens to shield it from rain, with a fair amount of success. Since August 2015 when I first photographed the Lorenzo Dow Oak, the Grangeville Masonic Lodge members have cleared away the undergrowth that obscured the trunk and main limbs of the old oak,  revealing the full profile of this huge tree. At 35 ft. 8 in. in girth, this little-known oak is tied with the Randall Oak in New Roads as the second largest and oldest of live oaks in Louisiana.


Lorenzo Dow Oak, infrared black and white study 1

An interesting side note about this tree that I discovered after my 2015 visit: The Lorenzo Dow Oak was registered tree #261 with the Live Oak Society (LOS). This was probably sometime after 1963, when the LOS became active again after a dormant period of about 16-17 years. Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens acted as secretary of the Society until his death in November 1938. At that time, his list of member trees included 57 oaks. In 1945, Stanley C. Arthur, executive director of the Louisiana State Museum, assumed responsibility for record keeping, admission of new tree members and continued measurements of tree growth.

In the  Live Oak Society Bulletin, a hand-typed newsletter he produced, Mr. Arthur added another 62 oaks to Dr. Stephens’ registry, including their names, locations, measurements and sponsors. This brought the total of member oaks to 119. In that list, there is an oak named the Dr. E.O. Powers Oak, also located in Grangeville, LA. So, it’s possible the Lorenzo Dow Oak was in the first 119 oaks on the Society registry under a different name and with a different sponsor but was renamed and re-registered 20 years later.

In 1957, the Louisiana Garden Club Federation assumed record keeping responsibility for the Society; and since then the secretary/chairmanship and record keeping responsibilities have passed on continually, slowing adding to the now 8,000-plus roster of senior and junior member live oaks.

Revisiting the Seven Sisters Oak

Though I’ve had a couple of other blog posts in the works, I couldn’t leave the 30-something project behind without a nod to the Seven Sisters Oak, the current president of the Live Oak Society and the national champion live oak tree species in the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry. And also a 30-something oak…

The Seven Sisters Oak – Live Oak Society President and Champion Tree of the Southern live oak species in American Forest’s Champion Tree List.

Cyndi and I took a drive from Bayou Lafourche to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain recently to revisit the Seven Sisters Oak, to make some new photographs for the blog and say hello to an old friend.  The sky was overcast, making it possible a good day to photograph in the shadows of a towering old oak.  The recent rains had turned the resurrection fern a lush bright green. (We also made a stop in Ponchatoula to stock up on local strawberries and visit a couple of other local oaks including the Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak.

While visiting the tree, we met the current owners, John and Mary Jane Becker. They were welcoming and informative about their term as caretakers of this massive oak (almost 40 feet in circumference).  The Seven Sister’s Oak shades much of the front yard of the Becker’s home in the historic neighborhood of Lewisburg, near the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, in Mandeville.  Mrs. Becker remarked how the old oak was wearing an abundance of new celery green flowers (catkins) when we visited, one indication that the centuries-old tree is still healthy and vital.  She also said that last year the oak produced a bumper crop of acorns.


Seven Sisters Oak, view toward the Becker’s home.

If you missed our previous blog post on the Seven Sisters, I’ll recap some of its known history (though what we know about the oak dates back less than 100 years and some estimates of the tree’s age put it to between 600 and 1,000 years old).

The Seven Sisters Oak is actually the second live oak to take the status of President of the Live Oak Society.  It replaced the Society’s first president, the Locke Breaux Oak, after its death from air and water pollution (see my previous posts about the Locke Breaux Oak for details).

For years, the eligibility of the Seven Sisters Oak as a society member tree was disputed.  It was argued to be several separate trees growing together rather than a single tree. Then in 1976, after inspection by federal foresters, the multiple tree trunks were found to have a single root system.  It was accepted into the Society—registered (#200)—and in time, was appointed the new Society President, based on its girth, limb spread, and height.

(A short sidebar.  From other sources, I see this is an ongoing argument among tree-measuring folks—whether the circumference of a multi-trunk oak can be compared equally to a single-trunk tree. I take a neutral position on this topic. To me, they’re all very old oaks, and as such deserve to be considered as cultural, historic, and environmental treasures, regardless of the shape or number of trunks.)


The oak tree’s first sponsor was the Doby family who owned the property on which the tree is located at that time (the 1930s). Mrs. Carole Hendry Doby was one of seven sisters in her family and the tree was named originally named “Doby’s Seven Sisters.” The oak was re-registered (#697) by its next owners, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Seiler.  The Seiler’s renamed the tree simply “The Seven Sisters.”


Seven Sisters Oak, view from outside of the oak’s canopy, showing new green catkins.

According to the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry, the Seven Sisters Oak has a crown spread of 139 feet, a circumference of 467 inches (approximately thirty-nine feet) and a height of sixty-eight feet. Its age has been estimated to be somewhere between 500 and 1200 years old. The current measurement is closer to 480 + inches or 40 feet.

How to Measure a Live Oak’s Girth

First, get a flexible 50-foot tape measure…


Cyndi takes the tape measure to the Seven Brothers Oak in Washington, LA

While photographing and measuring many live oaks across the state, it’s become apparent to me that there is some general misunderstanding about how one should measure the girth (circumference) of a tree. Several of the older and larger live oaks that I’ve measured have girths (by my measurements) that are far less than what is listed in live oak records.

In this blog entry, I’ll explain the method that I’ve learned—which follows generally accepted guidelines used by many foresters, arborists and other tree-measuring folk. Others, with a more analytic and scientific approaches to tree measurement have gone into great detail about the measuring process. So, If you’re looking for more detail, especially about measuring height and limb spread, I’ve included links below to several sources for measuring height and crown spread using both simple and sophisticated tools. For my purposes, a flexible 50-foot tape measure is sufficient along with some way to record your results (pencil and paper).

Here goes:
• Wrap a flexible tape measure around the oak’s trunk at 4 to 4.5 feet above the ground (about chest height) and take the measurement in inches.

• For trees with rounded knotty growths, bumpy burls, limb extensions, or any other abnormalities at 4 to 4.5 feet above ground, measure the smallest circumference between 4.5 feet and the ground. In other words, measure under anything sticking out that might inflate the girth.

• If the trunk is leaning, wrap the tape at 90 degrees to the axis of the lean, instead of parallel to the ground.

NOTE: Dr. Stephens wrote about measuring at an oaks natural “waist.”  It’s usually apparent where this is – somewhere around the 4 to 4.5 foot area of the trunk there’s usually a natural indent before the main trunk and limbs begin to flare outward.


Single trunk oak on flat ground (easy to measure)

There are endless variations in the shapes and sizes of oak trunks that make accurate measurement challenging—not to mention entangling growths of vines and plants (like poison ivy) that can throw off your measurements. Some live oaks have single straight trunks and grow from flat ground, making it easy to estimate 4 to 4.5 feet above the ground.

Others are situated on small mounds of soil, leaf litter and a network of roots that make it hard to know whether 4.5 feet should be measured from the ground directly next to the oak’s base or several feet back from the tree on lower, more level ground.  I take measurements from both places, a few steps back and closer in, then average the two. Generally, this will place the girth measuring line somewhere between 4 feet and 5 feet on the tree’s trunk.


Multiple trunk oak (hard to measure)

Some live oaks have multiple trunks that divide and flare outward from their main trunk. Sometimes these divisions occur just a few feet from the ground and well below the 4.5 foot point (the Seven Sisters Oak is a typical example). What to do in this case? According to one arborist source, measure below the 4.5 foot line at the place he described as the oak’s “waist”—a natural curve that often occurs below the place where the branch or branches split from the main trunk.


Oak with root and trunk burls (even harder to measure)

Another oddity of old live oaks is root and trunk burls that can completely encircle a tree and exaggerate the girth considerably. From Wikipedia: A burl (American English) or burr (British English) is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds. Burl formation is typically a result of some form of stress such as an injury or a viral or fungal infection.

When I measure the girth of an oak with a burl like the example above, I’ll measure at 4.5 feet and again above the mass of burls, then average the two. If there’s a single burl obstruction, I’ll measure under the obstruction.


Oak completely covered with poison ivy (let someone else measure!)

Dr. Stephens estimated that an oak with a girth of 17 feet or more (the Live Oak Society today says 16 ft.) should be at least 100 years of age. But he noted also that many live oaks of much smaller girth can be more than 100 years old as well. The girth can vary significantly depending on whether the tree grows out in the open, far from other trees competing for light and water, or in a natural forest setting where it is more crowded (close-grown). Also, the growth rate and overall health of an oak can vary depending on the quality of the soil in which it grows and its access to a regular water source.

As several arborists have explained to me, girth is simply one indication of an oak’s age. This is why Dr. Stephens recommended regular re-measuring of an oak’s girth to determine its growth rate over time—information that may provide a better idea of a particular oak’s true age.

According to Wikipedia: “Girth is a measurement of the distance around the trunk of a tree measured perpendicular to the axis (the vertical center line) of the trunk. In the United States, it is measured at breast height, or at 4.5 feet (1.4 m) above ground level. This “breast height” value is a measurement that’s been used for decades in forestry applications. (CBH is a common acronym you’ll often see in descriptions of tree girth; it means circumference at breast height.)  This technique of measuring at breast height was developed because of the simplicity and ease of measurement. There is no one ideal height at which to measure girth.” (Italic emphasis here is mine.)

With all of that said, I’ve listed below three professional sources of detailed measurement techniques for girth, height and crown spread.

American Forests—American Forests uses a specific formula to calculate “Big Tree” points as part of its Big Tree Program (a sort of competition to determine the largest tree of each species). They award a tree one point for each foot of its height, one point for each inch of girth, and one point for each foot of average crown spread. Their measuring guidelines can be found here as a downloadable handbook.

The Eastern Native Tree Society has published a thorough description of detailed measurement guidelines here.

The Monumental Trees website also has simple instructions with helpful drawings and photos here.

(Next blog entry: More 30-something oaks.)

Etienne de Boré Oak (Tree of Life)

Audubon Park – New Orleans, Louisiana

Etienne de Boré oak - Audubon Park, New Orleans

Etienne de Boré oak – Audubon Park, New Orleans

In New Orleans, and especially the neighborhoods surrounding Audubon Park, this oak has been dubbed “The Tree of Life.” Its registered name with the Live Oak Society is the Etienne de Boré oak. The land on which Audubon Park is located was at one time part of de Boré’s extensive sugarcane plantation.

Registration & MeasurementsAt just under 35 feet in circumference today, this oak was number 13 on Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens’ list of 43 original inductee trees into the Live Oak Society and is also in the top 100 oldest surviving oaks on the Society’s member list.  Its girth when it was registered (as #21) was 23 feet, 1 inch. The oak is located in Audubon Park on the down-river side of the Audubon Zoo, right over the fence from the giraffe habitat. It’s an enormous tree with a broad gnarly base of roots and a crown of limbs more than 160 feet wide.


The Live Oak Society estimates that any oak with a girth of 17 feet in circumference (measured at 4 feet off the ground) is probably 100 years of age or older. This is a rough system of estimation developed by the Society’s founder, Dr. Stephens, which is fairly accurate, though soil, rain, and other habitat conditions can affect a tree’s long-term growth.  A live oak with a girth of more than 30 feet could be 300 years of age or more.  The ages of many of the Society’s oldest and largest trees are only rough guesses, and there’s been much-heated discussion among amateur arborists and other tree-folk over this issue.

Etienne de Bore' Oak

Etienne de Bore’ Oak


Jean Etienne de Boré is significant in history as the first French planter in Louisiana to successfully granulate sugarcane into sugar on a large scale, helping to make sugarcane the main crop over indigo and tobacco in antebellum Louisiana. He originally cultivated indigo (a highly valued crop and popular dye); but after several years of drought and insect damage, de Boré decide to gamble the last of his and his wife’s personal funds on growing sugarcane. In 1794, he secured a variety of Cuban sugarcane from Don Antonio Mendez (a Cuban of Spanish descent) who had successfully granulated a small amount of sugar in 1791 (a few barrels or hogsheads – approx. 1000 pounds per barrel) at Magnolia plantation in Saint Bernard Parish, downriver from New Orleans.  With the help of Mendez and a Cuban by the name of Antoine Morin who had experience with the sugar granulation process, de Boré succeeded in producing a crop of sugar on his plantation that he sold for $12,000 (quoted from a Times-Picayune story from January 13, 1895).

De Boré was also the first mayor of New Orleans, appointed to the position by Governor William C.C. Claiborne in 1803, the same year Louisiana was transferred from Spain to France.  He resigned in 1804 after New Orleans became an American colony through the Louisiana Purchase.


Couple getting married under the limbs of the Etienne de Bore’ oak.

Audubon Park is home to several other member trees of the Live Oak Society. The George and Martha Washington oaks were among the original 43 inductee oaks in the Society along with the de Boré oak. George has passed on but Martha is still alive, in the rhino habitat of the Zoo. There are three other unnamed oaks spread across the Park’s grounds that are elder Society members.

Remains of Martha Washington Oak in Audubon's Rhino habitat

Remains of Martha Washington Oak in Audubon’s Rhino habitat