Trees break. Trees snap. Trees fall.
Its the order of all things green. Trees are designed to grow, reproduce, and collapse. It is an inescapable fate.
This week's round of downdraft storms reminds us of the fragility of all plant life. Dr. Alex Shigo once called trees "the most massive, longest lived organisms on earth," yet eventually the old woody system fails so as to make way for the new. We manage, inspect, and care for the trees in our landscapes, but we just can't seem to predict when the strength of a storm will overtake the steadfastness of an oak.
Or can we?
These downdraft winds caused some of the most unusual tree damage I have seen in a long time. On the surface, the falling trees seemed to be inexplicably random. Loblollies snapped in half. Giant white oaks toppled over, pulling up hulking mounds of soil around their roots. Little dogwoods fell over into the lawns. Branches broke, and driveways were lifted. There did not seem to be a pattern, and the damage was widespread over a big geographical area. Seemingly firm-standing trees fell while neighboring weak trees were left standing.
So to make sense of things, I began taking notes each time a spotted a failed tree. I'm still recording, but the most interesting thing that I have noticed so far, is that the majority of failures occurred at, or near, a defective region of the tree. Even the most arbitrary of damage appears to have a reason.
Here's the hard part to accept: before the trees failed, many of the defective tree parts would have been visible to the experienced eye.