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By Steven Ward
December 2022

Live oak trees can live a long time.

Friendship Oak, the giant, sprawling tree on the front lawn of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast campus in Long Beach, has been around for more than 500 years.

No hurricane, including Katrina in 2005, has been able to knock it down during all that time.

If future hurricanes don’t tear it apart and people don’t treat the tree and area around it recklessly, Friendship Oak could survive another century, said Blake Bailey, a Mississippi State University Extension Service forester.

“Live oak trees live a longtime, but Friendship Oak is an exceptionally old tree,” Bailey said.

Measurements taken in 2011 show the tree with a height of 59-feet; diameter of the trunk at 5 feet, 9 inches; a circumference of the trunk at 19 feet, 9 ½ inches; and a foliage spread of 155 feet, according to USM officials.

The average length of the main lateral limbs is 60 to 66 feet from the trunk. The average limb circumference at the trunk is 7 ½ feet, while the tree forms almost 16,000 feet of shelter; and the lateral roots go out 150 feet.

“Most trees are taller than they are wide. Live oaks are the opposite and are twice as wide as tall. Live oaks have the densest, hardest wood of any Mississippi tree,” Bailey said.

Allisa Beck, a USM librarian at the Gulf Coast campus who has worked at the university since 1983, said the tree was the center of campus activity in between 1921 and 1971 — when the school was the Gulf Park College for Women. USM took over in 1972.

“Whenever there was a hurricane or storm, we would get calls from the women who graduated from Gulf Park College asking us if the tree was OK,” Beck said.

The area around the tree has been utilized for years for events, weddings, high school prom photos, graduation activities, and general sightseeing.

Friendship Oak turns up on all the tourism websites as a place to visit. I drive past the tree on my way to work, and I can’t tell you all the times I’ve seen cars with license plates from other states stopped, and people taking photos.

— Beck said.

Beck said there is a chain around the tree to discourage people from climbing or getting too close. Before Hurricane Katrina, the tree had a platform/stairway around the tree that resembled a tree house. The storm destroyed the platform, and it wasn’t rebuilt.

In August 2017, one of the main limbs on Friendship Oak broke due to the weight of new growth and heavy rain. The tree’s health was subsequently assessed by a certified arborist, and the failed limb was removed in October 2017. Remediation work included some pruning plus installation of bracing to support other limbs, USM officials said.

Bailey called Friendship Oak one of the most beautiful trees in Mississippi.

“I’m a tree guy, so I feel very moved when I’m around these big, old trees. So, yeah, I feel that way about Friendship Oak. All the live oaks on the Gulf Coast make the place so special,” Bailey said.

More Oaks

If live oak trees are your thing, you can take a ride to nearby Ocean Springs to visit Twelve Oaks Nature Trail.

A short half-mile loop trail winds through the remnants of a garden, diverse bayhead swamps, and provides a scenic vista of Old Fort Bayou.

Twelve Oaks
1112 Hanley Road
Ocean Springs
Details: (228) 435-9191

Get directions to Twelve Oaks.

After turning north onto Hanley Road from Bienville Boulevard, turn left onto the gravel driveway where the paved road ends. Park outside the gate and walk in.

Source: Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain

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