Residents and visitors to our area often comment on our majestic live oak trees that make the Golden Isles such an inviting place. These trees, which symbolizes both strength and courage, are testimony to the fact that this area has been spared major hurricanes. Perhaps more intuitively, they are also a testament to the ancient character of our natural surroundings. They have borne witness to change that outlives us and in that sense are woody storage banks for our collective memories and histories. In fact, these live oaks are so closely associated with our early history that it is only natural that they are Georgia’s State Tree.
Mature live oaks vary in size depending on their location: “scrub” oaks hunker close to the ocean, wide lateral-growing oaks with massive trunks thrive on the barrier islands, and yet even taller-trunked trees are found mostly on the mainland. It is not unusual for the larger trees in our area to be 200-300 years old, with some, like the Lover’s Oak in historic Brunswick, reportedly over 900 years old.
Above ground, live oaks have a very artistic asymmetrical shape and below ground, the root system may occupy an area four to seven times the width of the tree’s crown. When draped with our non-parasitic Spanish moss, they create an aura of mystery. Their oblong-shaped leaves have a waxy coating that adds extra protection from our salty climate. As the old leaves are pushed out by the new growth, we have to deal with fallen leaves this time of year rather than in autumn. At the same time, the trees produce male flowers called catkins (as kids we always called them caterpillars), which exude a yellow-green powdery mess and create headaches for myself and many allergy sufferers. The trees’ fruit is an oval acorn, about one inch long, which are eaten by many songbirds, as well as quail, turkey, squirrel, and deer. Recent studies show that the trees actually have a very extensive network that coordinates acorn production by releasing chemicals through their leaves and roots and exchanging carbon nutrients via fungi networks. This may explain why some years they collectively produce larger crops so as to have a higher success rate for the acorn to survive the tasty seedling stage. Who knew trees were so smart?
As our coastal communities have developed, there is an honest desire by most to protect our live oaks. Today’s technology makes it possible to relocate a mature live oak tree without killing it. For example, in 2005, the Sea Island Company relocated 1500 mature trees at Frederica Golf Club on St. Simons Island. Initially, many of the trees did not survive; however an expert firm, Tree works, out of Vermont, was brought in to manage the process, and they continue to be involved in what is today a very successful project.
So as you drive around town, slow down long enough to really appreciate the artistry of these beautiful trees. And while you do, be sure to look for the Island Tree Spirits. Legend has it that the carved faces immortalize the countless sailors who lost their lives at sea aboard the mighty sailing ships that were once made from St. Simons Island oak. I have included a link below to where these are located.
Easter is what’s known as a “movable feast”—in other words, a religious holiday that may fall on a different calendar date from year to year. Here’s the basic rule for finding the date: It falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. Join with Churches from around St. Simons for a Community Sunrise Easter Service at the Village Pier on Easter Sunday at 6:30 am.