Whether sheltering, shading or simply holding errant Mardi Gras beads, New Orleans’ majestic live oaks are an integral part of the city’s landscape and lifestyle.

The live oak (Quercus virginiana) thrives here in alluvial soil deposited by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The trees can be found from Virginia to Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

Some of the oaks in City Park predate the founding of New Orleans. The oldest, including the McDonogh Oak, sit on a ridge near City Park Avenue, on the edge of what was once Bayou Metairie. They are believed to be between 300 and 600 years old. Three hundred of the oaks in City Park are registered with the Live Oak Society.

Long before the area was developed, the then-remote oak trees provided an ideal remote spot for duels and suicides. Oaks in the old grove were given the monikers “Suicide Oak” and “Dueling Oak.”

One of the largest oaks in the city, the Tree of Life at Audubon Park, has a girth of 35 feet.

More live oaks were planted as the city was settled, at first as grand entrances to plantations. And as the city spread uptown, business owners in the late 1800s planted live oaks from Carondelet at Canal to Carrollton and Claiborne to provide shade and beauty, said Collen Perilloux Landry, chairman of the Live Oak Society.

Thousands of trees have been planted since, including hundreds to replace those lost after Hurricane Katrina.

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