Georgia / Nature / Travel / Weird

The Lover’s Oak: 900 Years of Romance

Lover's Oak FI

Is this not the weirdest, ugliest tree you’ve seen in a while? It’s the perfect graphic for a haunted forest. Given its grotesque appearance you might wonder where the romance comes in – well read on.

Lover's Oak 2

It’s the 12th Century and the dust from the turmoil in Europe has settled. Viking invaders have become permanent residents, and crusading Catholic knights are riding away to regain the Holy Land. In Asia, the powerful Khmer Empire is flourishing in Cambodia, and Angkor Wat is under construction. And in the sandy soil near the coast of what is now Southeast Georgia, a small acorn sprouts and reaches toward the sky. Nine hundred years later that live oak tree still stands.

Lover's Oak 3

Any near-millennial tree commands respect, and of course, deserves a name. And the Creek Indians, indigenous to the area long before Europeans arrived, provided one. Local lore says that young Native American lovers would meet under the “Lover’s Oak” to kiss and swear their love for each other. The ancient tree is growing (inconveniently and un-romantically) in a median strip in downtown Brunswick.

lovers-oak-4

Imagine the history this tree has witnessed. This turn-of-the-century postcard shows it standing like Tolkien’s Treebeard smack dab in the path of a streetcar line. Strong and defiant to the end, the mighty oak forces the streetcars to go around.

Living 900 years is no small thing, particularly for an oak tree in the middle of an area famous for ship building.

Because of the tree’s short height and low-hanging branches, lumber from live oak was specifically used to make curved structural members of the hull, such as knee braces (single-piece, inverted L-shaped braces that spring inward from the side and support a ship’s deck). In such cuts of lumber, the line of the grain would fall perpendicularly to lines of stress, creating structures of exceptional strength. –Wikipedia

Lover's Oak Postcard

It’s amazing to me that this tree has survived at all. How on earth did it escape someone’s fireplace or the shipbuilder’s axe? It could be that by the time the boat builders arrived, its large size made it too difficult to work with. But whatever the reason, it’s an impressive sight, and a testament that strength and beauty don’t always go hand in hand.

Happy Trails,
James

P.S. This post wraps up the Weird and Wonderful series. It’s been fun for us, and hopefully for you as well. It’s unlikely that weirdness and wonder will disappear from our world, so we’re keeping the idea in our quiver for future posts. Watch this space.

84 thoughts on “The Lover’s Oak: 900 Years of Romance

  1. I think it is a most beautiful tree! How wonderful, and miraculous that it survived.
    Thank you for this lovely post. I enjoyed the photos of its environment in earlier days, and I think the “Powers That Be” should have left it a little more space!
    Alison

    • Thanks Alison. Probably for most of its 900 years this tree grew in the hammock far from the city. And as usually happens, the city grew and engulfed it. I love it that the streetcar line curved around it. ~James

  2. The Lover’s Oak is a magnificent specimen. The closest thing to it I have come in contact with is the Quinault Lake Sitka Spruce on the Olympic Peninsula.

    While it is estimated to be 1,000 years old, I have been unable to find any tales or legends from the native people about the tree. It is majestic, standing over 190′ tall and 59′ around at its base. However, it does not have the mythical (and mystical) stature of the Lover’s Oak. (There are photos if you search Google Images.) – Mike

    • This is a very impressive tree Mike. I’ve been to the Olympic Peninsula a few times, but didn’t manage to see this towering spruce. Native Americans revered their environment and ancestors, so I suspect that somewhere in history there was a name for this majestic tree. And I’m surprised that there aren’t more trees like this in the area. Given the rain and soil conditions in the rain forest there, you can throw down a dead stick and it will grow. ~James

  3. 900 years old? Well no wonder it looks gnarled and grotesque. I imagine we would too if we lived that long. 🙂 I have enjoyed the series very much James. You and Terri have really modeled the ‘looking for the unusual at home and abroad’. Sometimes the little stories make the best ones. 🙂

    • Thanks Sue. Southerners take their trees seriously, and honor them accordingly. I’ve seen the biggest oak, tallest oak, widest oak, and while impressive, it’s hard to believe a 900 year-old tree in this area. Thanks for your comments on the series. I’m glad you enjoyed it. ~James

  4. this is really a special find – and whew – how old – and I agree this tree was privy to many things over the years – and the different photos give us a nice feel for different aspects

    • Jill, I’m sure there would be lots on interesting stories. In addition to the Native Americans, the Spanish, French, and finally British were dominant here, so there was a rich history to view. Also, at the turn of the century there was an active lumber industry. Again, how on earth did this tree survive? ~James

    • We had a discussion about punctuation Alastair. We talked about the lack of an apostrophe, and we wondered whether the possessive should be singular or plural. Ultimately, we went with convention and used what we found online. Probably, no one has the nerve to tell the mayor about the mistake. 😉 ~James

      • I would go for Lovers’ Oak because the legend suggests that two people go there to proclaim their love. Lover’s Oak suggests one person who goes there to seek their luck or to pine for their beloved … but I guess people will be arguing over that one for the next 900 years! Loved the post!

  5. Fascinating stuff James! I’ve been Googling old trees for the last half hour. The Wye Oak in Maryland, which was a childhood landmark for me, was destroyed in a hurricane in 2002. Boohoo! “Old Knobbley” near here in Essex is a mere 800 years old but has its own website and Facebook page. A stand of quaking aspen in Utah is somewhere between 80,000 and 1,000,000 years old!! Thanks for sending me off on that tangent.
    Long may the Lover’s Oak survive.

    • Carol, I checked out the photos and Old Knobbley appears to have a similar look as the Lover’s Oak. Live oaks are common in our part of the world, and 200-300 year-old trees are common (probably as in the UK). The saying here is: “It takes a live oak 100 years to grow, 100 years to live, and 100 years to die.” But a 900 year-old tree is truly exceptional. And thanks for reading. I’m always pleased when one of my posts sends someone off on a tangent. ~James

    • Thanks Shelley. I’ve always been fascinated by history and synchronous events in different cultures around the world. Politics, science, and religion ebb and flow and the human animal perservers. ~James

  6. Thanks for posting this! What an amazing and resilient tree! It’s a tribute to its strength how it has survived all these years, without being cut, hit by lightning, or otherwise….
    My dad spent time down in GA in that area so I’ll have to ask him if he knows about the Lovers’ Tree…
    I loved your Weird and Wonderful series… The world is a beautiful yet sometimes wacky place!
    Cheers to you both!
    Lia

    • Thanks Lia. And don’t forget that the tree grows in hurricane country as well. This tree is off the beaten path, and for some reason doesn’t get much publicity, so your dad may have missed it. There are a couple of signs, but it’s still a bit difficult to find, so if he goes to check it out, the best thing is to follow the signs and then ask a local. ~James

      • That’s true that it’s even weathered many a storm!
        I’ll ask him if he remembers seeing it.., he’s got fond memories of his time down there..
        Thanks again for posting this!
        Happy weekend:)

    • Your old and naked analogy is a good one Tess. One characteristic about live oaks that make them a beautiful and beneficial tree in the hot, humid south is that even though they’re deciduous, they never loose all or their leaves at once. As the old leaves are dropping, new leaves are growing and so they provide much needed shade year round. Probably more info than your needed, but interesting nonetheless. ~James

  7. I agree with Shelley – I love the way you put historical perspective around the age of the tree.
    The most striking photo for me was the 3rd one showing the street view. How wonderful – and miraculous – that it has survived the tendency of man to bulldoze anything in his path.
    I love trees and especially the ones that ooze with character like this one 🙂

    • I like this photo as well Joanne because it gives us an appreciation for how wide the canopy extends. The limbs on these live oaks can extend out long distances, which is probably a function of the strength of the wood. The can even grow to the ground and back up. ~James

  8. Love this post and the tree. Wish we had known about it before we passed through Brunswick. Definitely worth a pull-over! Glad to read you’re still on the lookout for Weird and Wonderful things — you have great eyes for spotting them!

    • Rusha, sorry, I should have told you about the Lovers’ Oak, but totally forgot. It’s a low key sight, but a 1000-year old tree is something everyone should see. Next time through let me know and I can provide directions (and a lunch recommendation as well). ~James

    • Thanks Joyce, I love this tree as well. How goes things in the Great White North? I’ve been following the weather and temps, and I can honestly say that I’m happy to be missing it. Stay warm and safe. Love, JH

  9. The reason they didn’t cut the tree down was it was so irregular. It couldn’t be used for construction but it probably provided a lot of shade. There is an ancient olive tree in Tunisia that looks somewhat like that. I have a picture of it if you are interested to see it. It’s supposed to be well over 1,000 years old. Looks very much the same – twisted and gnarly. They are quite beautiful in their own right.
    Leslie

    • Many of the ancient trees that I’ve seen photos of all have this gnarly appearance. Hundreds of years of wind, sun and water certainly have an effect. The oldest tree in the US is “Methuselah” which is a 4,846-year-old bristlecone pine. From the photos I’ve seen it looks like it could have been dead for 2000 years. ~James

    • Thanks Kelly, and thanks for continuing to visit. I’m glad that you enjoyed the series, and am sure at some point it will be resurrected. Weirdness will not disappear that’s for sure. ~James

    • I agree Susan. To truly appreciate the age of the tree I had to put it into historical perspective. A human generation is 20 years, so a comparison to 900 is difficult to comprehend. ~James

  10. What a wonderful old tree. Just think of all the stories it harbours. I love that the street car track went around it. I wonder if that would happen today. Thanks for sharing all these weird and wonderful sites. Most enjoyable.

    • Thanks Darlene. I love that the streetcar track bends around the tree as well. But I must admit, that I don’t totally understand it. In this area at the turn of the century the city wasn’t particularly crowded, so the track could easily have been moved a few feet one way or the other. I’ll never know the answer, but it makes an interesting photo. ~James

  11. Like the dutiful tourist I sat in that tree to get my photo taken while we visited last year. I did not know the history behind it. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Good for you LuAnn. I don’t think that many tourists actually find, and then go out of their way to visit this tree. It’s not everyday that there’s an opportunity to see a 900 year-old tree, so I think that it’s a cool sight. It’s still amazing to me that it survived storms and shipbuilders for nearly a millennium. ~James

  12. I venture to say it really is magical and its magic has protected it for this long…however, it deserves a better spot than the middle of the median…

    On another note, I loved this series. You never cease to delight!

    • This is another example of the difference in cultures Martha. Native Americans revered the tree, and white men just ignored it and carried on with development. Honestly, given our “man conquering nature” philosophy it’s amazing that the tree survived at all. BTW, there must be a few famous, ancient trees in your neck of the woods. Have you seen or heard of any of them? ~James

    • Thanks Laura. It was a fun series to write, and as I said to someone else, I’m sure weirdness won’t be disappearing from my world, so this theme will reappear at some point. BTW, are you still on the road in the SW. As you last post showed, there’s a fair amount of weirdness out that way as well – maybe a post idea. ~James

    • Pam, every state seems to have the “biggest, oldest, tallest” tree and I remember seeing some of these in FL. I’ve seen the oak tree with the largest girth in FL, but can’t remember where it is. Have you seen any of these legacy trees in your area? ~James

      • One of them unfortunately burned down, but we do have others. I am always amazed how the limbs support themselves horizontally parallel to the ground.

    • Sylvia, I suspected there were historic trees all over the UK. I looked at a few photos of the Major, and this tree also has a huge, slightly misshapen base. I guess that this comes with a 1000 years of life. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. ~James

  13. I have loved the “Weird and Wonderful” series. I am in love with the The Lover’s Oak: 900 Years of Romance. Since I personally know the authors, I have an insight on this story. This tree is as strong and sturdy as their relationship is. Now they are not gnarly or grotesque I must say. They stand tall and strong through every adventure that life throws at them or that they throw at life. There too have been “streetcar tracks” of life that have gone around them as to not disturb their harmony and existence. Thanks Gallivance for sharing your love of life, travel, architecture and all the weird and wonderful life experiences.

    • Sue, that is just THE most incredible comment! Thanks. And you’ve been with us from the very beginning … not just the start of the blog … but the beginning of “US.” 🙂 We can’t tell you how much we appreciate your thoughtful words, keen insight, and steadfast love and support. So glad that you enjoyed the series … and to know that you don’t think we’re gnarly! 🙂 Much love always and can’t wait for May 1st, ❤ James & Terri

  14. What a great story about this oak! It would be interesting to know how many times throughout the 900 years that some harebrained politician has tried to cut it down and how the efforts were stopped!
    I have really enjoyed your Weird and Wonderful series.
    And the above comment(Susan’s) is quite impressive!

    • Thanks Marilyn. As I said in the post, I’m amazed that this tree managed to survive. Brunswick was (and still is) an active port, and in the past was known for boat building. And isn’t Sue’s comment touching. Full disclosure, she’s Terri’s sister and she’s been with us for our entire history together. She’s a sweetie. ~James

  15. Hi, I’m re-reading this great post again, because I have a new enthusiasm for ancient trees and would love to visit Lovers Oak. There aren’t that many old trees in my area of Kansas, but we recently visited friends near Charleston, South Carolina, with its massive old oaks. They suggested that we visit Angel Oak on John’s Island in South Carolina, another venerable Live Oak. It’s supposedly the oldest (possibly 1,500 years old) and the biggest tree east of the Rocky Mountains, although others say that some cypress trees are older. Hurricane Hugo knocked it around, but it still looks amazingly sturdy and covers more than 17,000 square feet of ground. The gift shop there should add some romance to the story, like your Lovers Oak. We all thought Angel Oak had a heavenly meaning, but Angel was the surname of an early landowner.

    • Cathy, we lived in Charleston for a year, and somehow, we didn’t manage to see this wonderful old tree. Ummm. Not sure how we missed it. Like you, after this post and reading the comments I’ve been checking out old trees as well. It seems that the oldest is a 5,000 year old bristlecone pine in CA. One thing that amazes me about the live oaks in our area is how far the branches can grow horizontally and still support themselves. I’ve seen some truly amazing ones on our island. BTW, I’ve seen you posters on your online store and they’re excellent. How’s business? ~James

  16. It seems I lost you from my ‘following’ list. This seems to happen all the time. We have a tree like that in Sherwood Forest. It is called ‘Robin Hood’s Oak’ and it is held up with timber supports. Experts have dated it at no more than three hundred years old so it is unlikely that Robin ever climbed it!

    • Another commenter mentioned Robin’s Oak. It’s interesting that there would be such a discrepancy in the age. I know that normally they count growth rings to tell the age, but in the case of these very old trees I’m not sure if this age technique would work. I wonder how they do it? Carbon dating from wood in the core perhaps. ~James

      • In the case of Robin’s oak I don’t think it really matters – everyone knows it is just legend. There is also the tree of Hippocrates in Kos which may or may not be the original?

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