The maritime live oak forest is the dominant woodland community along the southern barrier islands of the Georgia coast.
The maritime forest contains a fascinating variety of hardwood species. Small sized species like red bay, yaupon, American holly, sparkleberry, wax myrtle, saw palmetto, vines and Spanish moss thrive in the understory shade of the towering live oaks, southern magnolias and water oaks. Other hardwoods that make up the canopy of island forests include laurel oak, cabbage palm, yellow poplar, sweetgum, red maple, tupelo, pignut hickory and the non-native sycamore.
Disruptive events like fire, hurricanes or human influence can damage a maritime live oak forest community. Hardwoods are easily destroyed by fire and cannot successfully grow in an area with frequent fires. Unlike hardwoods, pines need frequent fires to maintain community health. Pine trees have a peeling, fire-resistant bark that allows the tree to survive when subjected to the scorching temperatures of a fire.
For pine communities, fire helps clear the land to create open space for young pine trees to grow without being hindered under the shade of parent trees. Some pine trees like loblolly and slash pine have a rapid growth rate and the ability to grow in poor soil, which assists these trees in taking over after a disruptive event.
Although disruptive events give way to new and different forest communities, over time the dominant forest community will gradually return. If there are not frequent disruptive events, shade-tolerant hardwood trees will grow between the larger pines and slowly take over the community when the great pines fall from old age or disease.