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Are live oaks that old?

editor: I enjoy American Forests. Not before the Winter 2006 issue have I wondered about the accuracy of the material therein. The article titled, "Southern Comfort" starts with a startlingly fine black and white photo of an old grove of live oaks. Unfortunately, the text heavily emphasizes the great age--to 1,200 years--that live oaks are purported to reach.

In Floral City, Citrus County, Florida (about 20 miles west of my home at "Towering Oaks"), there is a still-existent, beautiful live oak-lined street. This view was featured in the 1936 movie "Gone With the Wind." These mostly grandfather oaks were planted in 1884 or just 50 years before!

At the battleground where Major Dade and over 100 U.S. soldiers were murdered by Indians and escaped slaves in 1835, the detailed map made a few months later shows not a single oak. This is startling, because dozens are there today and one of them, just northwest of the museum, is an especially large and apparently very old one.

The oaks that live hundreds of years are neither southern nor live oaks. They are European or more northerly species. They are also very exceptional individuals.

It may be true that the ivory-billed woodpecker has survived in the swamps of Louisiana, Arkansas, or the mountains of Cuba, but the evidence, so far, doesn't support this hope. Still, having a Cornell University ornithologist supporting this position counts for something.

I have seen the woodpecker "evidence." The out-of-focus movie second or two is far from convincing. I share [author Gary] Lantz's hope, but so far there is more convincing evidence for the Loch Ness Monster and several other nonexistent spirits than for living ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Richard Cary Paull

via e-mail

While it is true that size should not be equated with age, it is a fact--as we said in the story--that the average age for live oaks is more than 200 years. The age of the Seven Sisters, the national co-champ live oak in Louisiana--estimated by foresters at more than 1200 years--was obtained from both the Live Oak Society and chairman Coleen Perilloux Landry.
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Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 22, 2006
Words:350
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