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Live Oak or Laurel Oak?

If you're more of a visual learner, check out this video on our "This or That" on our YouTube playlist.

Florida is home to many species of trees and knowing what tree you are looking at isn’t always easy. Today, we are going to focus on just two similar looking trees: live oak and laurel oak. Let’s take a look at each tree:

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) 
Live oak tree showing overall tree structure

Live oak tree. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Thomas Wright

Live oaks are large, sprawling, trees growing to a mature height of 60 to 80 feet with a spread of 60 to 120 feet. They develop very strong wood that is quite resistant to decay. These trees can live for 300 years or more 

Leaves
Leaves of live oak tree

Leaves of live oak tree showing top side (left) and underside (right). Photo credit: Lara Milligan

The leaves of live oaks are thick and leathery with smooth edges. They are dark green on top with very fine hairs on the underside, giving them a paler green, almost gray appearance. 

Bark
Bark of live oak tree

Bark of live oak tree. Photo Credit: Lara Milligan

The bark of live oak is reddish brown, and can turn gray to almost black. It is very rough compared to the bark of laurel oak. As live oaks mature, their bark becomes deeply furrowed. 

Fruit
Fruit (acorns) of live oak tree

Mature fruit (acorns) of live oak tree. Photo credit: Lara Milligan

One other characteristic to note is the fruit or acorns they produce. Live oak acorns are shiny, dark brown, elongated, ovals, about ¾ inch to an inch in size. Acorns start off green and become a deep brown as they mature. 

 

Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia) 
Overall appearance and structure of laurel oak tree

Laurel oak tree. Photo credit: Lara Milligan

Laurel oaks are also tall trees with fairly symmetrical oval canopy spread of 40 to 60 feet. Laurel oaks grow fast, resulting in relatively weak wood that is prone to break and decay. They also have a significantly shorter lifespan of only 50 to 70 years.  

Leaves
Topside and underside of laurel oak leaves

Leaves of laurel oak tree. Topside of leave shown on left and underside on the right. Photo credit: Lara Milligan

The leaves of the laurel oaks are smooth, narrow, shiny, dark green on top and a brighter green underneath. The margins of the leaves are either smooth or irregularly lobed.  

 Bark 
Smoother appearing bark of laurel oak tree

Bark of laurel oak tree. Photo credit: Lara Milligan

The bark is dark gray and smooth when young, developing shallow fissures with flat ridges, but still not nearly as rough as live oak bark 

Fruit
mature fruit (acorns) of laurel oak

Mature fruit (acorn) of laurel oak tree. Photo credit: Lara Milligan

The acorns of laurel oak are also brown, but more of a dull brown, and have a rounded appearance only growing to about half an inch to ¾ of an inch long. 

Summary  

To help you identify these two trees, take note of: 

  • Overall structure
  • Appearance of the leaves and bark
  • Acorns (when fruiting and available)
     

Hopefully with these characteristics in mind, you will be able to identify the difference between the live oak and the laurel oak next time you encounter one of them. If you’re still unsure, take a picture and send it to me at lara317@ufl.edu.   

If you enjoyed this series and would like to read more about commonly confused plants and animals in Florida, you can find more here: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/global/tag/commonly-confused/

Blog written by Alexis Visovatti, intern. Edited by Lara Milligan.