Hurricane Damage(61090)
Credit: Spring Dew

Hurricanes are one of the most devastating natural disasters that affect lots of gardeners and property owners in the Southern and Southeast United States.  Every year, hurricanes and tropical storms topple majestic trees and cause heartaches for gardeners.  Not all trees are as likely to succumb to the brutal effects of wind as others, however.  Select the right trees to improve the chances of your trees surviving the next hurricane.

Features of Hurricane Resistant Trees

Researchers have found that some trees have features that help them resist the damaging winds of hurricanes and high winds.  

1. Low Center of Gravity

Trees with a low center of gravity are more likely to survive hurricane-force winds than threes with a high center of gravity. Trees that keep their lower branches are generally more likely to avoid being blown over by high winds. Allow trees to keep their lower branches. Some trees, like Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) naturally develop branches close to ground level. As a result, Southern Magnolias are less likely uprooted during storms.

2. Deep and Spreading Roots

Deep roots that spread out from the trunk stabilize trees during storms.  Deep tap roots act like a ship’s anchor and keep the tree from being pushed over by wind.  Shallow roots are no match to a hurricane.  Trees with shallow roots are pushed over in rain-saturated soils during hurricanes. Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) sends down a deep tap-root to anchor the tree when it is young and then develops and extensive wide-spreading root system to support the tree during strong winds.

3. Fewer, Stronger Branches in the Canopy

Trees with fewer, but larger, branches will withstand storms better than trees with dense canopies made with many thin branches.  Wind breaks small-diameter branches easier than thicker, beefier branches.  For example, Flowering Pears (Pyrus calleryana) have lots of small branches that are easily damaged in high winds.  Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) have a few strong branches that survive high winds better than the thin Flowering Pear branches.

4. Defoliate at Low Wind Speeds

When a tree holds it’s leaves during the worst winds of a hurricane, it is more likely to be toppled.  Foliage acts like a sail on a ship.  High winds push harder. Eventually the leafy limbs will break or the tree will be pushed over.  Trees that defoliate at low wind speeds are much more likely to survive a hurricane.  Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto) quickly drop their leaves before the trees break in high winds.  

5. Native to the Southeast

Native trees are better adapted to high winds and hurricanes than trees that evolved in less windy climates.  While many beautiful exotic trees succumbed to hurricanes, native trees have withstood the storm and are left standing.  Select native tree species to reduce catastrophic damage during a hurricane.

Recommended Hurricane-Resistant Trees for Florida and the Southeast

  • Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
  • Bald Cypress (Taxodium distictum)
  • Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
  • River Birch (Betula nigra)
  • Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto)
  • American Holly (Ilex opaca)
  • Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)
  • Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia viginiana)
  • Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera)
  • Crape Myrtle (Lagerstoemia indica)
  • Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)
  • Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffianum)
  • Thread Palm (Washingtonia robusta)
  • Weeping Fig (Ficus benghalensis)
  • Royal Palm (Roystonea elata & Roystonea regia)

Avoid These Trees - Susceptible to Damage from High Winds

  • Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
  • Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana)
  • Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii)
  • Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) 
  • Red Maple (Acer rubra)
  • Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
  • Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
  • Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia)
  • Water Oak (Quercus nigra)

Select the Right Tree for Your Landscape

Select the right tree for your landscape and you will reduce the chance of catastrophic damage to your trees during a hurricane or tropical storm.  Native trees are naturally adapted to hurricanes and are the best choice for major plantings.  Stake young trees to develop strong mature trees and protect the root zone from damage and your trees will likely grow strong and provide shade and beauty for years to come.