They are the grand monuments of the southern landscape, with massive strong arms that support an evergreen crown that can be fashionably draped with Spanish moss. The biggest of the live oaks is called the Seven Sisters Oak, located in Mandeville Louisiana.
The Seven Sisters Oak is the President of the Live Oak Society and is the largest of the more than 8,000 trees registered with the society. The tree has a girth of nearly forty feet, is 57 feet high, and its branches would cover half of a football field. The giant oak is estimated to be a thousand years old. “There’s something ‘live’ about a live oak. I always tell people if you stand under a live oak at midnight, you can hear it talk,” says Coleen Perilloux Landry, the chairman of the Live Oak Society. She is the only human member of the society, which has live oak members from 14 southeastern states.
The Seven Sisters Oak covers the sprawling front yard of the home of Mary Jane Becker, “So we were quite enamored with the tree from the moment we knew it was in existence.” Becker is the caretaker of this grand old lady. “We make sure that the water system works so that the tree gets watered each day as it probably has been for many, many years”, she explains. “And then twice a year a live oak expert comes out and deep root fertilizes the tree.” As Landry stands under the Seven Sisters Oak, she asks, “Peace and quiet, serenity, don’t you feel that?”
Another of the Northshore’s giant live oak trees is located in the cemetery of St. Joseph’s Abbey at St. Benedict, a few miles north of Covington. This tree is named after the Benedictine Monk who ran the original monastery on the site. The Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak has a girth of more than 22 feet.
If you venture to City Park in New Orleans, you can walk among the largest stand of registered live oaks, which number more than 200 trees. These huge moss-draped oaks provide for a shady stroll year round.
Near the Cajun town of Church Point, Bob Thibodaux has his eye on some of the oldest and sturdiest oak trees in Louisiana. He has converted farmland into an 80 acre arboretum where he raises live oaks from acorns.
“They’re just an awesome tree,” Thibodaux explains. “They can live 2,000 years. And after a hurricane, you see a lot of human misery and destruction. But you go to where the live oaks are and you can see that they withstood the storm and you could plainly see where they slow down the winds.” Thibodaux operates Bob’s Tree Service, which provides oak trees for landscaping throughout the south. His trees are descendants of some of the largest live oak trees in existence, like the massive Cathedral Oak at St. John Cathedral in Lafayette.
The St. John Cathedral Oak is one of the trees that Thibodaux collects acorns from, “and we see a superior quality tree.” Another Thibodaux’s favorite ‘parent’ trees is the Jim Bowie Oak in downtown Opelousas.
The gnarled roots of the giant Jim Bowie Oak in Opelousas bend over the sidewalk and press against the side of a downtown office along US Highway 190, a heavily travelled route through the city. And that’s what impresses Thibodaux about this ancient live oak, “This tree had to have superior genetics because it grew in such a harsh environment and survived. So, I picked acorns from it and I propagate them and I find these trees to be better than most.”
In addition to providing trees to landscapers, Bob’s Tree Service also tries to donate 25-hundred live oak seedlings a year to various conservation groups across the south. Thibodaux believes in sharing what he considers a magnificent tree. He says it’s a lesson he learned from his great grandmother. He explains with a smile, “and when you come to the pearly gates, the eternal reward will be a bird’s eye view of all the trees that you left on God’s green earth.” That is something Bob Thibodaux would enjoy when he’s no longer planting live oak trees.