Live Oaks Weather Storm

An abundance of green bursts forth from what is arguably South Mississippi best-known live oak. The Friendship Oak on the USM campus is said to be more than 500 years old.

Its sprawling branches show no ill effects from the storm.

Equally majestic is the E.O. Hunt Live Oak, at the South Mississippi Regional Center.

"As you can see, the new leaves are out. It's in full bloom and doesn't look like, it's a Katrina survivor, what can we say?" said center director Dr. Pamela Baker.

It not only survives, but thrives. Live Oaks are resilient and low maintenance. This year's leaves become next season's fertilizer.

"We've had a wedding under the tree from people in the community. People frequently stop by to see it and take pictures. And we're actually on the Spring pilgrimage tour," said Dr. Baker.

Not all coast live oaks share the vigor displayed by the massive Long Beach trees. Countless storm-struck trees are an unattractive collection of wounded branches and leafless limbs.

As hardy and storm resistant as the species might be, the stress from Katrina took a significant toll on the coast's live oak trees. Drive the beach 19 months after the storm and it's easy to find plenty of examples of live oaks that appear to be dead or dying.

"This is going to be the do or die year," says City of Biloxi arborist Eric Nolan.

Overall, Nolan says he's impressed with how the live oaks stood up to the storm. And it wasn't salt water that killed some trees.

"I think a lot of it was fine root hair loss caused by the trees heaving back and forth in the storm. The structure roots did what they were supposed to. They held the trees upright. But they lost a lot of that fine root hair structure that lets them take up water and nutrients in the Spring and Summer," said Nolan.

A summer of growth will give us a better idea how many of these coast treasures will survive.

Nolan says home owners trying to save a live oak must first be certain the tree is structurally sound. Some storm-damaged oaks can be a safety hazard. If the tree structure is solid, most of the time they can be saved with supplemental water and fertilizing.