The Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina - Atlas Obscura
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Johns Island, South Carolina

The Angel Oak

The Southeast's oldest living organism. 

The fairy-talesque Angel Oak tree in Charleston, SC, is thought to be one of the oldest living organisms east of the Mississippi River. It stands 65 feet (20m or 6 stories) tall, is 28 ft (8.5 m) in circumference, and an area of 17,000 square feet is shaded by its tentacular crown. The largest branch reaches 187 feet.

Estimated to be 400-500 years old, this Southern live oak has survived a number of hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. It was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 but recovered and continues to grow.

The tree’s species is native to the lowland country of the coastal Carolinas. Live oaks tend to grow more outward than upward, however due to the Angel Oak’s age, it has done both. Its branches reach in all directions, with some driving underground and then growing back up above the surface.

The name comes from the Angel Estate, owned by couple Justus Angel and Martha Waight Angel. However, local legends say the ghosts of former slaves appear as angels around the tree.

The tree is now property of the City of Charleston. Recently, a plan for apartment development near the Angel Oak has been scrutinized and fought against by the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. They argue that the development would alter the groundwater flow to the tree and clear the nearby forests whose root systems are intimately related with the Angel Oak.

The Angel Oak is featured in the novel The Heart of a Child by Emily Nelson. The area also hosts a number of artistic and social events throughout the spring and summer seasons.

Know Before You Go

There are no shuttles to the tree park but there is a very large parking space and the tree is free to view and enjoy!