When my parents told me they'd be spending Columbus Day weekend in Savannah and Hilton Head, I was happy for them, to be sure. But I may not have expressed that adequately, as my first response was a bit self-centered: "Will you take some pictures of the live oaks for me?!"
I've seen the southern live oak, Quercus virginiana before - after all I did go to grad school in Georgia. But, unfortunately, my photos - taken on a trip to Savannah in 1999 - aren't digital, so I issued speedy instructions to mom and dad to shoot away.
I'm hard-pressed to name another tree that is more picturesque than the southern live oak. Its open, vase-shaped habit is stunning, especially when planted in allees. Add to that, the trees have this great, lazy lean to them like the one below. It really does remind you of the south: long, hot summer days, mint juleps and Tennessee Williams. ...Well, it can remind me of those things!
Of course, the other characteristic that makes the southern live oak so remarkably beautiful isn't technically part of the tree at all, it's the Spanish moss that cascades from the trees' branches, swaying so slightly in the warm breeze.
Spanish moss, or Tillandsia usneoides, is an epiphyte - which means that it grows on another living plant. Epiphytes are similar to parasites in the fact that they rely on other living things for sustenance, but parasites ultimately damage the host organism, whereas an epiphyte can 'live in peace' with the host.