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Trees that lost their leaves during a storm in Florida

Urban tree experts offer guidance before, after major storms

As Hurricane Idalia cuts a swath through the Southeast, some trees will fare better than others.

Years of experience has shown how major hurricanes negatively affect the tree canopy. But native trees and certain varieties can show more resilience than others, says community forestry associate professor Jason Gordon. He offered a few tips for property owners grappling with tree damage in the wake of Idalia or any hurricane.


Native tree adaptations

Many native trees, such as live oaks, shed their leaves during a storm to allow for wind flow. If your live oak tree looks bare after a storm, don’t panic—it’s likely not dead. Instead, wait until the next growing season to look for new leaf growth.


Pine preferences

Experience from hurricanes Michael and Katrina found longleaf pine withstood hurricane-force winds better than slash and loblolly pines. In fact, added Gordon, many landowners changed their rotations to longleaf after Hurricane Katrina even though they take longer to mature and incur an economic tradeoff as a result. “But there are other reasons why folks switched over, including market changes and cultural values,” he added.


Palm persistence

Many people assume palm trees are naturally designed to withstand hurricanes, but Gordon said researchers have found some palms outperform others. A study by researchers at the University of Florida found wind-resistant palm species included sabal palm, Canary Island date palm and manila palm.


Maintain and observe

Sometimes, said Gordon, it’s not the winds that cause trees to die but the infusion of salt water. This could take years to recognize, but he said it’s important for homeowners to periodically inspect their trees for signs of new growth. The University of Florida study also noted that urban trees can often be restored through a long-term pruning plan.

Trees in urban and suburban areas provide many benefits, he said, and while storms can bring damage, it doesn’t mean we need to remove trees from the landscape. Rather, planting native trees and trees better adapted to high winds can provide both peace of mind and a stable tree canopy over the long term.

Gordon also noted that many homeowners in hurricane-prone areas have been required to remove trees from their property by their insurance company. “Unfortunately, calls for removal are often not based on the risk profile of the tree,” he said. “Therefore, this action by the insurance industry is causing a loss of canopy and associated ecosystem services.”

For more information on tree and root care in hurricane-prone urban and suburban settings, read this publication from the University of Florida.


Slide/Banner Caption:
Research by the University of Florida in Hurricane Ivan found that trees that lost their leaves survived winds better. Live oak and gumbo limbo are examples of these types of trees. (UF)


Associate Professor of Community Forestry

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