July 25, 2008

Fish Branch Tree Farm: Live Oak Cultivars

After a decade-long process, Fish Branch Tree Farm has developed two new cultivars of the native Live Oak. Owners John and Linda Conroy and environmental horticulturalist Lloyd Morgan have narrowed their selection through a careful and scientific process to produce two proud and perfect parent trees, each with a different set of desirable characteristics for today's landscape applications.

The Boardwalk(R) has an upright growth habit with excellent branch attachment, and the Park Side(R) has a classic Live Oak canopy with a strong central leader. In addition, Fish Branch grows a third cultivar, the Cathedral (R), which has an easily maintained central leader and wide-angled branches.

Live Oaks grown from acorns are highly variable in their development. There are several varieties, as well as hybrid crosses, which contribute to inconsistency. The need for predictability in the landscape industry has sparked an interest in the selection and propagation of Live Oak cultivars. Cultivars are genetic clones that replicate the traits of their parent trees. This ensures a uniformity that is impossible to achieve through seedlings. If 100 acorns are planted, 100 aesthetically different Live Oaks will grow, each with a unique branch structure. However, when 100 cultivar oaks are planted, the result is 100 genetically identical trees.

It was not until about 15 years ago that a commercially viable propogation method was developed for cloning Live Oaks. Fish Branch owner John Conroy saw a need for cultivars that addressed not only the structural requirements of the landscape industry, but the aesthetic desires as well. Cultivars were being created, but the results were "simply not pretty enough," says Conroy. He began the propogation process by selectively taking cuttings from Live Oaks that displayed exceptional examples of the characteristics the industry desired. These traits, along with Florida's Grades and Standards for evaluating trees, have guided Fish Branch in the selection process.

Under Conroy's direction, Fish Branch environmental horticulturalist Lloyd Morgan has rejected hundreds of trees and taken thousands of cuttings to create two distinctly different Live Oaks that are unique in today's landscape. "After a rigorous selection process and years of experimentation, we have two cultivars that should satisfy the desires of the industry," says Morgan.

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