Southern live oak trees draped with Spanish moss are an iconic symbol of southern cities like New Orleans and Savannah. The cold-intolerant trees have never been grown farther north than Virginia … until now.

Aiello: “I thought, with climate change, that perhaps this is something that we could grow.”

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Anthony Aiello is the curator of the Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania. Five years ago, he set out to see if southern live oaks could now survive in Philadelphia.

Aiello: “For the first few years we sort of babied them; we had them in greenhouses for the winter that were allowed to go down to maybe thirty degrees, but not get particularly cold.”

Then, last fall, the trees were planted in a nursery outside – and they survived the winter.

Aiello says that as the climate warms, areas suitable for these trees are creeping northward. At the same time, he says trees like sugar maples that prefer cold temperatures may now struggle to survive at the southern edges of their native ranges.

If the live oaks survive a few more years in Philadelphia, they’ll be moved to a public part of the arboretum. That may be exciting to tree-buffs, but it’s also a reminder …

Aiello: “Climate change is really happening.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo credit: David McCarthy.

Sarah Kennedy

Sarah is an editor and content producer with ChavoBart Digital Media (CBDM), a production firm with a focus on scientific and environmental media. Her work on Climate Connections includes developing story...