Monday, September 19, 2005

Bartram on the Live Oak and Florida Forest

William Bartram explores the St. John's River, just south of St. Augustine, Florida, in April of 1774. Here he gives us a description of the trees of the north Florida forest, especially the Live Oak (Quercus virginiana):

The Live Oaks are of an astonishing magnitude, and one tree contains a prodigious quantity of timber; yet comparatively, they are not tall, even in these forests, where growing on strong land, in company with others of great altitude (such as Fagus sylvatica, Liquidambar, Magnolia grandiflora, and the high Palm tree) they strive while young to be upon an equality with their neighbours, and to enjoy the influence of sun-beams, and of the pure animating air. But the others at last prevail, and their proud heads are seen at a great distance, towering far above the rest of the forest, which consists chiefly of this species of oak, Fraxinus Ulmus, Acer rubrum, Laurus Borbonia, Quercus dentata, Ilex aquafolium, olea Americana, Morus, Gleditsia triacanthus, and, I believe, a species of Sapindus. But the latter spreads abroad his brawny arms, to a great distance. The trunk of the Live Oak is generally from twelve to eighteen feet in girth, and rises ten or twelve feet erect from the earth, some i have seen eighteen or twenty; then divides itself into three, four, or five great limbs, which continue to grow in nearly an horizontal direction, each limb forming a gentle curve, or arch, from its base to its extremity. I have stepped above fifty paces, on a straight line, from the trunk of one of these trees, to the extremity of the limbs. It is evergreen, and the wood almost incorruptible, even in the open air. It bears a prodigious quantity of fruit; the acorn is small, but sweet and agreeable to the taste when roasted, and is food for almost all animals. The Indians obtain from it a sweet oil, which they use in the cooking of hommony, rice, etc.; and they also roast it in hot embers, eating it as we do chesnuts.


Travels of William Bartram Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, The Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Musogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Philadelphia: James & Johnson, 1791. (Dover Reprint, 1955.) 89-90.



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