Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Famous live oaks of Oak Alley Plantation

Quercus virginiana in splendid maturity

Oak Alley Plantation is famous for a long lane, lined with live oaks, which leads to a large mansion. The plantation is located near the Mississippi River, about three miles from Vacherie, Lousiana, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The live oaks were planted early in the 1700s by an unknown French settler. In 1722, monks traveling through the area made note of the double row of vigorously-growing young oaks in their journals. The trees were 120 years old (or more) when the current plantation home was built in the late 1830s. The 28 trees of the alley were the architect's inspiration for the 28 columns of the house.

The alley is 80 feet wide and about 800 feet long. Each side has 14 trees. The planter of the oaks planned well for their ultimate size. He knew that he would never see them in their maturity; yet, he thought about what they could become and what their space requirements would be. The magnificence of his vision is fulfilled, three centuries later.

Live oak facts

Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is nearly always wider than it is tall. Live oaks commonly reach a height of 40-60 feet with a spread of 1-1/2 times the height or more. Individual specimens may be 80 feet in height and 120 feet or more in spread. Live oaks often live 400 years, and individuals may live longer.

The tree is renown for its extremely dense, heavy wood. The acorns are relished by a wide range of wildlife; they are said to be the sweetest of all oak acorns. Native Americans gathered and stored live oak acorns to thicken their stew. They also pressed them and extracted an oil.

Like all live oaks, Quercus virginiana is an evergreen tree, holding its leaves throughout the winter months. In spring, old leaves drop off and new leaves are formed.

More tree history at Oak Alley Plantation

Another interesting bit of tree history took place at Oak Alley Plantation,  In the 1840s, Antoine, a talented gardener who was a slave of the plantation, grafted the first paper-shell pecan trees. By 1865, 126 grafted papershell pecan trees were growing on Oak Alley Plantation. The variety of pecans which Antoine created became known as "Centennial".

Related websites:
Images of Oak Alley from Life magazine, 1952
Photographs of Oak Alley's trees and the mansion
Amazing images of big live oaks
Official site: Oak Alley Plantation

Photo credit: Wikimedia image by Rolf Müller, 2003.

9 comments -- please add yours:

Ilona said...

Your blog is a treasure. I found many articles, including this one highly engaging. Thanks for your work in building a compendium of information here.

Genevieve said...

Thanks for your kind words, Ilona. I hope you'll visit often. I added you to my "Friends of Nature" list.

Anonymous said...

Michel Arceneaux (1666-1731) planted the oak trees there in 1704 after being granted the lands that is now Oak Alley by King Louis XIV. He lived there for 3 years and left, leaving the oak tree marked area for his son and then his son. Michel III returned to the area to reclaim in in 1740. He lived on the area for the rest of his life til his death in 1798. He gave the lands to his 4 sons Michel IV, Gabriel, Louis, and Francois. They all sold the land and it eventually ended up in Jacques Roman's hands in 1836.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story!

If anyone has any document or artefact related to the history of Michel Arceneaux and sons in this area, I would crave to see or get those first hand.

I'm in direct line with Michel Arceneaux ancestor and his story seems unbelievable, wrapped in mystery and thrilling adventure to Louisiana.

Plz contact me, Dan (korb007 (at)

Anonymous said...

I too am a direct descendant of Michel, and I have a copy of my lineage.

Gardenwife said...

I attended a wedding here about ten years ago. Those trees were absolutely breathtaking. I am still amazed by them.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a direct descendant of Michel Arceneaux, and I also have a copy of the Arceneaux family tree going back to Paris with Abraham.

Bonnie M said...

I am planning a trip to Oak Alley in March. I know very little about trees and being a New York native I was wondering if the oaks would have their leaves when I visit. Your article as well as others comments answered my question and much more. It is astonishing how the vision of one man doing something as simple as planting some trees created such a beautiful legacy. I cannot wait to see them. Thank you

Anonymous said...

My husband and I visited Oak Alley Feb 24, 2018. Our tour guide, a bearded young man, told us the oaks were transplanted to form the alley of oaks. I had never heard his version regarding the oaks. Frankly, he was not a very good tour guide, failing to point out several things in the house, such as the faux marble painting of the baseboards and fireplace mantles. Having visited many plantation homes over the years in various locations, I was very disappointed in his failure to point out several different things about Oak Alley. The mint juleps, however, ( virgin) were delicious. The meal we had at soak Alley was delicious!

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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