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The Oak Trees Came to Life

All photos courtesy of New Orleans City Park

It’s easy to be an admired tree, especially when you’re sturdy with good, shady climbing limbs. But to be a beloved tree, the kind where couples make vows at your trunk, where generations dangle from your branches—all that takes a certain kind of timelessness.

It began to grow before 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence (1776), before DaVinci painted the Mona Lisa (1503), and before the Italians built the Leaning Tower of Pisa (1372).

It’s holding ground in the city of New Orleans before it even was the city of New Orleans (1718).

These sorts of aged, quiet giants are deeply rooted on a wedge of land between City Park Avenue and a lagoon within the park created by Bayou Metairie, itself a remnant of an ancient distributary of the Mississippi River. It is the oldest grove of mature live oaks in the world.

The McDonogh Oak is almost a thousand years old. The Anseman and the Suicide Oak, the Allard and the Dueling Oak all fall somewhere just below. Confirming the age of a living tree is based on trunk circumference, height, and spread (the McDonogh Oak has the largest trunk circumference: 25’5”).

There are more than 600 lives oaks scattered over the 1,300 acres that make up City Park. Some were planted on behalf of of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, others are only several years in the ground. A handful have seen the turn of centuries.

Maybe that’s why we love our live oak trees so:

they remind us of what it means to survive.

Across the lagoon from City Park’s Historic Grove, the long, low-to-the-ground limbs of the Walking Oak meander out from its sideways-strewn trunk. You can walk from one end of the tree to the other. A couple of feet away, the Children’s Oak offers a shady respite to playground-goers or those walking off beignets and coffee. Just over the bridge, the Dueling Oak enjoys a quiet retirement from a former life as the spot where French and Spanish gentlemen once settled issues of honor.

Live oaks earn their name from their ability to be evergreen almost year-round. Old leaves fall around the same time that new leaves pop up in the spring. Their thick branches are often host to friendly neighbors—the spindly leaves of the Resurrection Fern or the delicate strands of Spanish Moss.

It’s breathtaking and slightly eerie under a certain kind of sky, especially knowing some of these trees not only survived Hurricane Katrina, but hundreds of hurricanes before. Maybe that’s why we love our live oak trees so: they remind us of what it means to survive. And age gracefully—with a little help from time to time.

Visit New Orleans and start your story with #OneTimeInNOLA.

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