Live Oaks Changing Seasons

The city arborist in Biloxi is getting lots of phone calls about the poor condition of live oak trees.

But Eric Nolan says not to worry, it's simply a sign of the season. Despite the increasing pressure of ongoing development, the live oaks along the coast are in pretty decent shape overall.

The usually majestic live oaks don't look that regal right now.

"It's just that time of year. They're a little scruffy right now. But they'll shape up in a month or two," said Biloxi arborist, Eric Nolan.

A change of seasons marks an expected transition among the trees.

"With Spring coming on, the live oaks are going to shed their second year leaves which makes them a lot more barren looking. And they'll also shed leaves right before the flowers come out, which almost all of them that I see around here are flowering right now," Nolan explained.

Oaks lining the median of Highway 90 face the stress of growing in small spaces between lanes of blacktop. One old oak had a run in with lightning.

"And once you get that, it gets in a certain stress situation. And on the beach, in that sandy soil, limited growing space, no irrigation, you're going to have that kind of problem," Nolan said.

Longevity is one of the hallmarks of the live oaks. It's not uncommon for these trees to live for several centuries. But these days, the biggest threat to that old age isn't from lighting strikes or disease. It's pressure from the ever increasing development along the coast.

"That's the biggest problem. Man," said Leonard Nahlen, a certified arborist from Long Beach.

He says live oaks need space. Especially the massive root system.

"The tree can survive with what it's got out to the drip line, but if you come out and damage this other area, that top is going to die back to what that root system can handle," he said.

With a little care, the special trees can survive many more centuries, sometimes in spite of the efforts of man.

"Overall, I think they're faring fine," said Nolan.

Southern University is wrapping up a study of live oaks. The two year project is looking at the impact of disease and development on the trees.