It’s as if the gods suddenly threw a switch. With a signal from beyond, springtime is bursting forth in Central Texas. One of my favorite harbingers of the fresh season is the Texas Live Oak (Quercus virginiana var. fusiformis), which exhibits an unusual behavior this time of year.

My tour clients from the west or northeast don’t often recognize this stately tree as an oak at all. Its oval-shaped leaves lack the sharp points that mark more familiar deciduous oak trees. But the live oak is considered an evergreen, keeping its foliage throughout the winter. Aside from a Japanese evergreen oak and some similar varieties in California, I know of no other tree with this distinction. Even in the bleakest days of December or January, Texans enjoy the live oak’s photosynthetic hues.

Defying convention, this tree announces spring by undressing. It is shedding its year-old leaves right now, so the ground exhibits the many browns of autumn. The good news is that the live oak’s new growth is rapidly taking the place of the old—first as blossoms, then as tender new frondescence.

Live Oak Leaves

new growth meets old

LO leaf litter

a fall in spring

This popular shade tree graces savannas, lawns, and parks throughout the Old South. It can grow from hundreds to even a thousand years. The bigger specimens’ long branches often bow to the ground and form cathedrals beneath. Their dense and durable lumber makes substantial furniture and other crafty items.

A county in South Texas is named for this big, beautiful plant, and the state champion grows inside the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge in Brazoria County. Big number two welcomes visitors to Goose Island State Park near Rockport on the Coastal Bend. My other long-time favorite reaches for the sun in the Hill Country village of Rio Frio, not far from a hand-dug irrigation canal. That, of course, is another story.

Happy spring!

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