Why did all the Cypress needles turn brown after Hurricane Irma?
If you’ve had the opportunity to drive around Collier County after the recent devastation from Hurricane Irma, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the extensive damage to our local trees. Bare palms, uprooted banyan trees, snapped slash pine, and mighty oaks that have had their branches cracked off like toothpicks. Our iconic local cypress tress (Taxodium disticum) have also experienced some significant damage, but did relatively well during this major storm.
How does a cypress stand up to a hurricane? Relatively well actually! Thanks to its thick, strong truck and wide root base, many cypress held their ground. Another benefit the cypress has is its lacy leaf structure. Although this tree is a conifer that produce its seeds in a cone structure, the branches are covered in needle-like leaves, different from the needles that we see on our local slash pines. This lacy structure creates very little wind resistance which allows the wind to travel through them without putting excess pressure on the branches. This is usually what causes branches to snap in high winds. Unlike most coniferous trees that stay green year round, the cypress tree is a deciduous conifer that looses its leaves during the fall, or the beginning of the dry season in Florida. Currently Southwest Florida is experiencing very saturated soils and a high water table along with flooding in the area resulting from Hurricane Irma. So if cypress trees usually turn brown and loose their needles due to lack of water, why did they all turn brown after Irma?
Here’s the answer! High winds move lots of things around during a major storm event like Irma. These winds can often carry salt water from coastal areas and push them a good distance inland. Salt water carried by the wind can coat the leaves a a cypress tree, causing them to turn brown and eventually drop off. But don’t panic! Our cypress trees will be just fine. They may look burnt at the moment, but they will drop the damaged leave and produce a brand new set in the coming weeks. If you have a cypress in your yard that looks like it died, don’t cut it down! Just give it some time and watch closely as it recovers along with the rest of our area here in Naples and Marco Island.
Fun Fact: You may have heard that you can tell the age of a tree by counting the rings in the inside of the truck. While this is true for most, it isn’t for the Cypress! Because of the harsh conditions this tree grows in and varying wet/dry seasons, the cypress can experience random growth spurts throughout the year causing it to create a different number of rings in any given year. It’s seasonality and growth patterns are controlled more by water than by temperature (seasons), so even though these trees can live to be very old, don’t try to count its rings to tell its age!
In fact, our famous red mangroves that we see on our Mangrove Tunnel Kayak Tour don’t have any rings at all!!
Rising Tide Explorers has been making effort to help in the Hurricane Recovery over the past week by organizing partners to help remove debris from yards, checking on properties of our past explorers, and will be organizing an effort to collect donations and deliver them to Everglades City which took a lot of damage from the storm. Stay tuned to find out how you can help! Want to see, experience, and learn about how to power of Hurricane Irma effected the estuary? Book a biologist guided kayak tour on our website www.RisingTideFL.com