Looking Up at the Angel Oak Tree
Photo by Mike Norton
Kiawah River is just 15 minutes from the Angel Oak tree on Johns Island, reported to be one of the largest oak trees in the world. As an estimated 400-500-year-old live oak, this tree measures at 65 feet tall but amasses 17,200 square feet of shade. It’s considerably wider than it is tall, and it’s this type of growth that lends the live oak tree, and especially the Angel Oak, its majesty and impressive presence.
While ghost stories abound about the angels and spirits that surround the tree, the name actually stems from Justus Angel and his wife Martha Waight Tucker Angel, whose family owned the land in the 1800s and the 1900s. Charleston County purchased the land where the Angel Oak rests in 1991, and it is now home to a beautiful 18-acre wooded park that surrounds the Angel Oak. The branches of a live oak tree of this age grow to the size of a trunk of the average tree and are so heavy they rest on the ground. Some of these branches even grow into the ground for more support and then resurface and grow upwards.
With a circumference of 28 feet, it would take five grown men standing hand in hand to stretch around the entire trunk of the tree. The Angel Oak, as are all live oak trees, is designed to survive the salty and humid coastline of the South. The waxy coating on the leaves protects them from the salty air and keeps the leaves green for most of the year, lending it the name live oak. Then each spring, the oak trees in the area drop their leaves and briefly remain leafless before sprouting new waxy green tips. Kiawah River boasts hundreds of ancient oak trees throughout the community, alongside the water and among the nature trails. These trees sprout new leaves in the spring just like the Angel Oak, but they do so in even greater abundance. Kiawah River is home to many magnificent trees that are nearly as old as the Angel Oak, and they are draped with Spanish moss and resurrection firms like a garland throughout the property.
This tree has survived for almost half a millennium, and it has been around longer than the United States has, and the city wants to make sure its growth continues through the next 500 years. So, make sure you check out the Angel Oak. Its magnitude is sure to impress, and it’s the perfect excuse for a picnic. And if you want to see trees on their way to becoming the next Angel Oak, start with the trees at Kiawah River.