IRMA-ed #1: Cabbage Palms & Oaks

Hurricane Irma, a strong storm of epic size, battered Indian River County on September 9 and September 10. The good news: The large live oaks (Quercus virginiana) at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) stood strong, unlike in 2004 when the sinister “sister storms” — Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne — devastated many of the largest and oldest oaks. The remnants of this damage remain evident and have become backdrop for re-growth …

As with Hurricane Matthew, the live oaks, long adapted to the stress of seasonal hurricanes, shed leaves and dropped lots of small branches. Certain trees “plan” and prepare to drop small branches cleanly, reducing the flow of nutrients to the branch in preparation. This process of preparing to shed small branches is called cladoptosis. In Greek clados means branch, and ptosis means falling.

Trees “decide” to drop branches for many different reasons. It might be to shed a damaged area beset by a fungal infection or plagued by a parasite like mistletoe on a laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia). It could be to drop off lower branches being shaded or to prepare for an upcoming dry season or, perhaps, a hurricane.

This “self-pruning” process was quite evident after Category 4 Hurricane Matthew traveled along the east coast of Florida on October 7, 2016. Unlike Matthew, Irma carried significant amounts of scalding salt and its winds blasted foliage for a longer period of time. According to the Press Journal, the salt scorch reach as far west as 58th Avenue.

The oaks along Oslo Road exposed to strong winds have been “browned” by the desiccating stress of salt and wind …

… as have the tall tops of oaks in the canopy …

The cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) were quite resilient and offer a bright green contrast to the browned oaks. Though tall like trees, palms are more closely related to grasses, lilies, and amaryllis.

A few unfortunate cabbage palms did fall across the trails …

And, some of them now lean …

“Could have been worse” was the caption on the front page of the local tabloid newspaper. It sure was for ORCA in 2004.