Southern-Fried Gothic: The Live Oak

A quick couple of notes. If you have a chance, hop over to Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust today–I’m talking about how Jean Lafitte inadvertently gave me the idea for Lovely, Dark, and Deep, and you can enter to win the tour prizes! The last episode of LDD as a serial releases today, so it’s the last chance to get the full book for $1.99.

There’s also a fun thing going on over at the Fantastic Reviews blog. The reviewer, Amy, is pitting River Road against another book, and looks like DJ and Co. will be moving on to the next round!

Now, let’s talk trees. Each week on the Southern-Fried Gothic feature, we look at an aspect of Southern and Louisiana life and culture. Today, it’s something I love: the live oak.

To scientists, it’s quercus virginiana, aka the Southern Live Oak. In many areas of the Southern U.S., it’s just another tree. It’s only when you reach the Gulf coastal areas—Southeast Texas, the southern coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle—that you find the really old trees with their twisting branches and trunks. Add some drapes of Spanish moss and you have creepy Southern gothic!

In New Orleans, there was a live oak in the courtyard of the building next door to my house that was estimated to be 350 years old and took up a quarter of the block. It was protected by the state, and we’d have to get permission to trim it away from the roof. It’s cool to think that tree was standing when Jean Lafitte lived in this area.

A block away is St. Charles Avenue, where the live oaks on the sides of the street form a solid canopy over the neutral ground (what the rest of the world calls a “median”) all the way through Uptown and Riverbend. While the flooding of the city after Hurricane Katrina killed many trees (all of the magnolia trees, for example) because the floodwater was salty, the live oaks did fine. They’re native to this area and climate and their roots are impervious to the salt. The only ill effect from the hurricane was that they were completely stripped of leaves. The streetcar tracks didn’t fare nearly as well.


In New Orleans’ City Park are the infamous “Dueling Oaks,” where gentlemen such as Andrew Jackson or our favorite pirate would hold duels. Neither of those guys ever lost one, and the trees are still there.

dueling oaks

West of New Orleans, along the River Road, the pirate Jean Lafitte ran his stolen goods through a couple of the plantations whose owners were business colleagues. These oaks are there now, and they were there when Jean arrived to spend a weekend with his cronies. This is the entrance to Oak Alley Plantation.

Oak Alley Plantation

This is the famous Evangeline Oak, located in St. Martinville, Louisiana, immortalized in Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline,” which dealt with the Acadians’ (now Cajun) exile from Nova Scotia by the British in 1755.

evangeline oak

And finally, I’ll leave you with a tree from the Barataria Preserve south of New Orleans, which probably doesn’t look too different than it did in Lafitte’s day. Who knows…maybe he was here!

barataria preserve

I have a $5 Amazon gift card (or Book Depo equivalent) up for grabs today. What’s your favorite tree?


23 thoughts on “Southern-Fried Gothic: The Live Oak

  1. I love oaks of all kinds and the magnolia is one of my favorites, too. Dogwoods and redbuds are nice, I like blooming trees. I don’t care for Bradford pear trees at all, way too many in Tulsa and they are brittle.

    • For blooming trees, I don’t think you can beat a magnolia, Susan. Plus those big white blooms SMELL so good! It was sad after Katrina that every single one of the magnolias was killed by the flooding. I’m sure they’ve been replanted though 🙂

  2. I’m a huge fan of deciduous trees, fall color and all, but my absolute favorite trees are giant Sequoia. So unbelievably massive. Overwhelming in size and scope. When we visited Sequoia Nat’l Park, I was brought to tears, stunned by their magnificence. There are some that are so wide they have chasms through which one can walk. The smell! More pine than a cleaner bottle. Sharp, fresh, clean….

    Funny thing, their pine cones are tiny. No bigger than a walnut.

    Loved this pictures of the live oaks. They seem to be a fave of writers everywhere, but I couldn’t recognize them from any other. The oaks we have in the Midwest are much taller, straighter. It is the wide arbor at the top that creates shade, not the stooping branches.

  3. so magnificient, i would love to be able to speak with those trees to learn all they saw and heard it would be such a long memory. It’s good they are protected when so old and we feel so little beside them and our worries so puny

  4. Coincidentally, we just got off the St. Charles streetcar (although we didn’t go all the way to Riverbend) and the live oaks were pretty amazing. I’m kind of crushin’ on the crepe myrtles, though, even though they aren’t in bloom. Each one is like a sculpture…so beautiful…

  5. Those are beautiful. I don’t really have a favorite kind. I love pretty much all of them. They each have there own beauty to them.

  6. Those are such beautiful trees. My favorites these days are Palo Verdes with their bright green leaves and bark they brighten up the dull brown desert.

  7. Growing up in California, I loved the Jacaranda trees, their purple blossoms were so pretty. But now that I live in Florida, I’d choose the lovely oak trees all over my neighborhood. There are quite a few different types, but they’re all nice and big and give the neighborhood lovely shade during the hot summer months.

  8. My favorite tree is the magnolia. It looks beautiful all year round and grows well in our area. The pictures of the live oaks are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I love these pictures!!! I need to revisit New Orleans again soon. And Savannah… boy, I miss Savannah…

    Anyway, my favorite tree is probably Dogwood. I think the blooms are delicate without being wimpy and so beautiful. Plus the street we lived on for the first six years of my life was Dogwood Lane, so there’s a happy association there. I also love birch trees (love their awesome bark) and Japanese Plum trees, of which we have one in our front yard. 🙂

  10. Awesome pictures! I like oak trees very much, but as a kid, I really loved playing under willow trees. Great place to hide!

  11. Growing up our street was lined with Cherry Blossom Trees. They were beautiful and I’ve always wanted a yard full of them still.
    Old Oaks are gorgeous too.

  12. Wow, those are some gorgeous trees! Living in MI, I really like maple trees–they have gorgeous leaves especially when the colors change, AND you get delicious syrup out of them (my father-in-law has some maples on his property so we get fresh “homemade” syrup every year)!

  13. I’m a little late here, but my fav tree was a tree that we had in our yard when I was little. It was a Weeping Willow. It was great to climb & play on. Next fav is a maple tree. I love the way they change color in the fall.

  14. It really depends on the season, since I like flowering trees in the spring and trees with colorful leaves in the fall. Overall, though, I guess my favorite would be the shag-bark birch.

  15. Thanks for this post! I have no idea if there are Live Oaks here in Holland, we do have oaks of course. I can’t help but wondering why they are called Live Oaks though. Aren’t all trees alive?
    My parents have a vacation home in the East of Holland, and there is this lovely mansion nearby, with an arboretum of really amazing trees. I love walking there (especially to escape the noise of my family). A few special ones I adore: Liriodendron, and the Davidia involucrata. From a distance, it is like someone threw a box of Kleenex over it.