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.

Throwback Thursday: Hurricanes & Hammocks

Hammocks & all habitats in Florida are hurricane-adapted. The plants at Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) weathered Hurricane Matthew in 2016 with little damage, save the loss of leaves & small limbs on live oaks (Quercus virginiana), the time-tested hurricane adaption of these iconic hammock trees.

The story was quite different in 2004 when ORCA was battered by a succession of storms: Hurricane Frances (September  5), Tropical Storm Ivan, and Hurricane Jeanne (September 24).

Gayle Peters (Class of Winter 1999) smiles above when a small group made the first visit to ORCA after the devastating trio of storms. All of the habitats saw significant impacts. Live oaks, cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto), and other vegetation was uprooted and twisted.

Without canopy shade, many plants suffered sunburn like the butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis) below or the wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) pictured at the top of the post.

Slash pines (Pinus elliottii var. densa) were snapped apart.

Fallen mangroves blocked the wetland crossover bridges …

The resilience and repair of these habitats has been amazing. Like fire, hurricanes are part & parcel of Florida’s ecosystems.

Throwback Thursday: Aftermath of the Sister Storms

Hurricanes like fire are defining part of the natural history of Florida’s ecosystems. Today, June 1, 2017, marks the beginning of the annual Hurricane Season.

The sister storms of 2004 dramatically altered the constitution of the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area. Hurricane Frances landed near Stuart on September 5, 2004 as a category 2 storm and moved slowly, painfully slowly, up the coast.  Hurricane Jeanne, a cat 3 storm, landed near Stuart not far from where Frances came ashore, on September 26, 2004. In between the significant Sister Storms, Tropical Depression Ivan, a hurricane when it struck the panhandle, circled back over Florida to drop more than 10 inches of rain on us.

Above is one of the few pictures taken at ORCA immediately after the Sister Storms in early October, when Brandon McKenzie, shown below, led a group through the tangle of devastation …

That group included Judy Avril (Class of Fall 1999) in the foreground, Sue Thompson (Class of Fall 1999) and Pearl McKenzie (Class of Fall 1998) …

Gayle Peters (Class of Winter 1999) was there, too ..

Progress was slowed by fallen cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto), live oaks (Quercus virginiana), slash pines (Pinus elliottii var. densa), and other vegetation …

All progress was stopped by a mass of mangroves blocking passage over the first wetland crossover bridge …

Sally Wilson (Class of 2003) and her sister paused on the bench to ponder …

The remnants of the large live oaks that fell in the hammock loop area still remain quite visible. Those oaks stood through the long lashing by Hurricane Frances and might have been able to withstand fast-moving Hurricane Jeanne were it not for the 10+ inches of rain dumped by Tropical Storm Ivan and held by the hardpan layer of soil.

Dramatically increased sunlight facilitated the expansion of invasive pest plant populations and weed growth, as well as scalded epiphytes acclimated to shady conditions like the butterfly orchid (Encyclia tameness) shown below …

Hurricane Matthew moved through swiftly this October and caused only limited damage. The live oaks stood tall and shed lots of leaves and small branches to allow the winds to blow through them, so increased sunlight has reached the hammock floor.

While the devastation was substantial in 2004, what is most remarkable is how well much of ORCA fared and how swiftly recovery came, though some reminders do remain, especially the skeletons of the downed live oaks in the hammock loop area.

Planting Thanks!

!!!!woodpecker-going-into-sabal-palm

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The red-bellied woodpeckers were out and in of the dead cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), as we installed the rest of the plants salvaged from the building site at the (Pelican Island) Audubon House. Many thanks to Deen Copeland, Judith Filipich, Steve Goff, Darlene Halliday, Cindy Hersh, and Trich Kruza for lots of hard work.

Deen Copeland is shown below installing a wild coffee (Psychtoria nervosa) …

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Judith Filipich has helped out at all but one planting day, always with a wonderful smile …

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PIAS Treasurer Steve Goff dug many holes, moved hoses, and pulled lots of weeds …

!!!!steve-goff-on-4-24-2016

PIAS Recording Secretary Darlene Halliday works fast …

darlene halliday 2 on 4-24-2016 at ah

Cindy Hersh is shown watering near the parking lot …

cindy hersh on 4-24-2016 at ah

A good time was had by all!