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There are only two oak species native to South Florida, and while they may look similar to most people, there are some major differences between them. The two species are Live oaks and Laurel oaks (sometimes called Water oaks.) Laurel oaks, Quercus laurifolia, are fast growing, short-lived trees. Laurel oaks usually maintain upright growth. The life span of a Laurel oaks is very similar in that of humans – about 80 years. By contrast, Live Oaks are slow growing and long-lived, with rougher bark and rounder leaves. 

Laurel Oak in a Forest
Laurel Oak Seedling in Snyder Park
Laurel Oak in a Landscape

The main reason that Laurel oaks are short-lived is that usually around 30 to 40 years old, most of the Laurel oaks start developing heart rot. Heart rot is a fungus that causes decay from the inside of the tree (the heartwood) outward. Laurel oaks are not very good at containing decay, so it spreads throughout the tree.  Most times, Laurel oaks show few signs of decline until the very end, when a large branch fails or the whole tree collapses. While hollowed out trees are great for wildlife, it can be a risky situation for street and landscape trees.This being the case, Laurel oaks are rarely used as street trees, but make wonderful additions to natural areas. 

Unfortunately, many of the Laurel oaks in Fort Lauderdale are reaching the end of their life spans and are starting to fail. The City's policy is to remove the trees when they reach this point.

More Information

The USDA Forest Service offers this overview of Laurel Oaks.

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