Ask Lowcountry residents how they feel about live oaks and their first comments will likely reveal a strong emotional connection.

Arbor Day news

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and other local officials are launching an initiative, 10,000 Trees for Charleston, with an Arbor Day Tree Planting at 3:30 p.m. today at 697 Meeting St. (Meeting and Romney streets).ArborGen, a global supplier of seedling products and technologies to the forest industry, has announced a long-term partnership with the College of Charleston Foundation to support forest conservation and restoration efforts at Dixie Plantation, which the college owns. ArborGen is donating 75,000 longleaf pine seedlings to be planted this winter at the 144-acre plantation.

One such resident is Mayo Read, co-chair of Charleston Trees, for whom the live oak is the symbol of the Lowcountry.

“They are big and strong and they last forever,” said Read, whose committee is part of the Charleston Horticultural Society. “Majestic” is among the first words that come to his mind at the mention of the tree.

Today, South Carolina Arbor Day, people across the state will focus on the state’s arbor heritage. Many in the Lowcountry likely think first of the live oak, an enduring part of the area’s natural landscape.

An online photo gallery accompanying this story features images of favorite live oak trees submitted by readers. Some of them commented on their favorite live oaks as places where they married, discovered a litter of puppies, found a secret hiding place as a child or sought respite from the days’ heat during summers.

While Read is passionate about all trees, his passion for live oaks is best shown by a project he and Charles Ravenel spearheaded to raise almost $100,000 for 340 trees in 1993. Today, the trees are growing from Mount Pleasant Street and Morrison Drive down East Bay Street to the Market.

The live oak, Read said, provides greater benefits than other trees when it comes to giving shade and to capturing the carbon emissions associated with global warming.

“They are simultaneously muscular and graceful,” said Danny Burbage, the city of Charleston’s superintendent of urban forestry. “They curve and swoop and dip to the ground and come back up. That combination of muscularity and gentle gracefulness appeals to people visually.”

Burbage also said the live oak has withstood hurricanes as well as any tree that grows in the Lowcountry for several reasons.

The tree, he said, has feeder roots that extend two to three times past its canopy. As it matures, it grows more horizontally than vertically. The limbs usually have more space between them than those of other trees and wind tends to pass through the canopy rather than against it.

In addition, the live oak compartmentalizes and seals off decay better than most of the trees that grow here, so the decay does not move through the limbs or the truck as readily as it might other trees, Burbage said. So, although they may have huge cavities and holes, they can live with them for generations.

While those factors, working together make live oaks very long-lived trees, but they don’t live as long as many think, Burbage said.

“Foresters don’t think live oaks live to be more than about 500 years old,” Burbage said. “A huge live oak growing in very fertile well-irrigated soil might be only 100 years old.” All oaks have natural heart rot so their rings, used as an indication of age on other trees, are obscured on oaks and cannot be counted to indicate age.

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.