Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Quercus virginiana

Coastal live oak, Southern live oak, Virginia live oak, Live oak, Encino

Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Quercus virginiana (Coastal live oak)
Flaigg, Norman G.
An open-grown live oak is a massive, picturesque, wide-spreading tree with magnificent horizontal and arching branches that form a broad, rounded canopy. A squat, tapering trunk (larger in diameter than that of any other oak) supports the huge, irregular limbs which often rest their elbows on the ground. Dimensions are 40-80 ft. in height and 60-100 ft. in width. Dark-green, waxy, unlobed leaves fall just as new leaves emerge in the spring, making the tree appear evergreen, though the coordinated leaf loss means its not actually a true evergreen.

This is the familiar Spanish moss-covered oak of plantations in southeastern North America. Its massive limbs and persistent, glossy foliage have sustained its popularity as a residential shade tree to the present day. It is rarely found inland except in cultivation, where it becomes semi-deciduous and slower growing than those that receive the moisture-laden winds of the coast. Adequate water is essential to maintaining this tree, though it is fairly drought-tolerant once established within its range. It is, however, quite susceptible to oak wilt where that is a problem, so treating surface wounds and avoiding damage to the roots is important. Though this is the best known live oak, there are a few North American live oak species also popular in residential landscaping, including on the West Coast, California Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia Née), and, in southern Oklahoma, central Texas, and northeastern Mexico, Escarpment Live Oak (Q. fusiformis Small), sometimes regarded as a mere variety of Q. virginiana but currently considered a distinct species. Escarpment live oak has slightly smaller leaves, broadest toward the base, and acorns with cups narrowed at the base (fusiform). It is more drought-tolerant than Q. virginiana and is commonly planted in drier parts of Texas. Both Q. virginiana and Q. fusiformis may send up dense shoots near or far from the trunk from rhizomes, sometimes so thickly that when mowed it looks like a groundcover.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Elliptic , Obovate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Margin: Entire
Leaf Apex: Acute
Leaf Base: Cuneate , Rounded
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Catkin
Fruit Type: Nut
Size Notes: Normally 40-50 ft tall, but can reach 80 ft.
Leaf: Though this species appears to be evergreen, it is actually deciduous, late each winter dropping its old leaves just as new ones emerge.
Flower: Flowers borne on 2-3 aments (catkins).
Fruit: Dark brown 1/3 to 1/2 inch acorns.
Size Class: 36-72 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May


USA: AL , FL , GA , LA , MS , NC , SC , TX , VA
Native Distribution: Coastal areas from southeast VA south to FL and western Cuba, west to east TX
Native Habitat: Sandy, coastal plains; moist hammocks

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Dry to moist soils, whether gravelly, sandy, loamy or clay, but does best in neutral or slightly acidic clay loams; poor drainage okay. Saline tolerant and tolerant of compaction.
Conditions Comments: The species tolerates more shade in summer than most oaks because the evergreen leaves can function through most of the winter. Can be damaged by long periods of freezing weather. Fairly drought tolerant once established, but susceptible, among other things, to oak wilt and chestnut blight.


Use Ornamental: A very large, long-lived, evergreen shade tree.
Use Wildlife: Many species of birds as well as squirrels use the tree for cover and the acorns for food.
Use Medicinal: The Houma used some preparation from it to treat dysentery.
Use Other: Live oak timber was once important for building ships. The nations first publicly owned timber lands were purchased as early as 1799 to preserve these trees for this purpose.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Horaces Duskywing, White M hairstreak, Northern hairstreak.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Quercus virginiana is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
White M Hairstreak
(Parrhasius m-album)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Consular oakworm moth
(Anisota consularis)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2015-11-05