Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina
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The Angel Oak on Johns Island, believed to be around 400 years old, is likely the most venerated of the lowcountry’s magnificent live oaks (Quercus virginiana).
While its height of 65 feet may not seem impressive, live oaks are known for their majestic canopies rather than their stature. The maritime trees have evolved to withstand the forceful winds of the coast, therefore they are usually much shorter than their extensive horizontal reach. Yet with a canopy extending nearly 2,000 square yards, the Angel Oak does not need height to astound visitors who visit its ancient, outstretched boughs.
You will notice in these pictures that many of the Angel Oak’s limbs rest peacefully on the ground, weighed down by their esteemed age. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact age of the tree due to the tendency of live oaks to develop heart rot, a condition which makes it difficult to obtain accurate core samples.
The tree’s name can be traced back to the original owners of the land, Martha and Justis Angel, though the Angel Oak property was acquired by the City of Charleston in 1991. The tree recently faced the threat of development and the destruction of its surrounding forest.
While the Angel Oak itself was not in danger of being felled, arborists cautioned that the forest around the tree protects its giant root system, provides shelter from storms, and affords it adequate moisture and drainage. Importantly, it also filters harmful pollutants before they reach the tree’s roots, bark, and leaves. Thus any development surrounding the acreage that encompasses the tree could be detrimental to its survival.
Many feared that the extensive residential and commercial development approved by the City of Charleston would jeopardize the tree’s safety. Motivated by this threat, local citizens brought attention to the tree’s future and helped raise enough funds to purchase 18.7 acres immediately surrounding the tree – as well as an adjacent 17-acre parcel adjacent to that.
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project deserves credit for its pro bono work in engineering these purchases, as does the Lowcountry Open Land Trust for raising the $3.3 million needed to purchase the remaining land that will ultimately help protect the Angel Oak. Several private organizations, individual donors, and local governments contributed to the preservation effort, which included a $2.5 million grant from the Charleston County Greenbelt Program and a $400,000 grant from the City of Charleston. Interestingly, many argue that the land would not have cost nearly so much had the City not adopted such high-density zoning in the first place.
Other donors include schools, churches, businesses, local municipalities, conservation groups, and civic organizations. How the land will be used is yet to be determined, but public input will be sought, according to Rutledge Young, Junior, president of the board of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust. The group closed on the land on March 15, 2014, signifying a major victory for conservationists and citizens who see the lowcountry as increasingly vulnerable to development.
In addition to the peace and beauty the Angel Oak brings to its visitors, the tree has also been recognized as a 2000 Millennium Tree and as the 2004 South Carolina Heritage Tree.
Angel Oak Info
Address: 3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island, SC 29455
Angel Oak Map
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