Navy Hat – Oak Leaves

Q: A U.S. Navy captain’s hat has gold oak leaves on the bill. What kind of oak leaves are these?

A: I think the oak leaves used for Navy insignia are stylized versions of live oak, Quercus virginiana, leaves. Live oak was invaluable in the construction of U.S. warships in the 1700’s – 1800’s. Live oak wood is very dense and damage resistant. The United States Constitution was called “Old Ironsides” due to the strength of its live oak construction. The U.S. government went so far as to buy large plantations of live oak trees to make sure the wood would always be available for shipbuilding. The tree keeps its green leaves most of the year, causing some folks to call it evergreen but it does drop older leaves each year as new young leaves appear. The old live oaks in Savannah are beautiful examples of this tree.

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