Which Florida trees are most likely to fall in a hurricane?
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
The most important—but often overlooked—consideration when selecting a tree to plant near your home in Florida is how resistant a particular species is to toppling over in a severe thunderstorm or hurricane. Certain popular landscape trees are more prone to failure in a storm than others. Pamela Crawford, author of the book Stormscaping - Landscaping to Minimize Wind Damage in Florida, lists these eleven trees as the worst for falling in high winds:
- Acacia (Ear Leaf)
- Australian Pine (Pinus nigra)
- Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia)
- Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffianum)
- Redbud (Cercus canadensis)
- Cherry Laurel (Prunus caoliniana)
- Drake Elm (Ulmus parvifolia ‘Drake’)
- Ficus Benjamina (Weeping Fig)
- Sand Pine (Pinus clausa)
- Tabebuia (various)
- Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
From our own experience with hurricanes Andrew and Wilma in South Florida, we would put Ficus Benjamina, Australian Pine, and Queen Palm at the top of that list.
One recent example is a Ficus Benjamina that toppled over onto a house in Key West (shown above) during Hurricane Irma in 2017, completely destroying it. The history of the house makes the tragedy even sadder: it was the former home of Shel Silverstein, author of the classic children’s book The Giving Tree. Ficus Benjamina's shallow root system, sprawling growth habit, with aerial roots that reach down from branches to form new trunks when they touch the ground, along with thick foliage canopy, all contribute to make it an extremely poor choice in hurricane-prone areas.
We remember that particular tree well because we built a large addition to a home next door in the late 1990s, and often heard Shel singing and playing his ukulele as marijuana smoke floated over the fence. The tree was also locally famous because its aerial roots entrapped a bicycle left leaning against the trunk for too long, and became known as the “bicycle tree.” Charming memories, but ultimately a terrible tree to plant anywhere near a house.
Also, any tree that is dead, diseased, improperly pruned so that it is top heavy, or has structural damage is more likely to fall in a windstorm.
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