Florida’s natural areas—a great source of pride and enjoyment to its citizens—provide recreation, protect biodiversity and fresh water supplies, buffer the harmful effects of storms, and significantly contribute to the economic well-being of the state. Unfortunately, many of these natural areas can be adversely affected by invasive plant species. An estimated 25,000 plant species have been brought into Florida for use as agricultural crops or landscape plants. While only a small number of these have become invasive, Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) is one of them.
As the trees begin to turn various shades of red, many people begin to inquire about the trees. While their autumn coloration is one of the reasons they were introduced to the United States, it took years to realize what a menace the trees become. Triadica sebifera, the Chinese tallow is locally referred to as popcorn tree due to the appearance of the developing seed heads, white three-chambers seeds covered in a fatty wax. It was introduced to Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1700s for oil production and use in making candles. However, the seeds are also tasty snacks for birds and can float long distances in the water, enabling it to spread to every coastal state from North Carolina to Texas, and inland to Arkansas. In Florida it occurs as far south as Tampa, displacing other native plant species in those habitats. Therefore, Chinese tallow was listed as a noxious weed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Noxious Weed List (5b-57.007 FAC) in 1998, which means that possession with the intent to sell, transport, or plant is illegal in the state of Florida.
Individuals can help mitigate the problem of Chinese tallow trees in Florida’s natural areas by removing them from their property. Mature trees should be felled with a chain saw by the property owner or a professional tree service. The final cut should be made as close to the ground as possible and as level as possible to facilitate application of an herbicide to prevent sprouting. Stumps that are not treated with an herbicide will sprout to form multiple-trunked trees. If it is not objectionable for dead trees to be left standing, certain herbicides can be applied directly to the bark at the base of the tree (basal bark application).
Herbicides that contain the active ingredient triclopyr amine (e.g., Brush-B-Gon, Garlon 3A) can be applied to cut stumps to prevent re-sprouting. The herbicide should be applied as soon as possible after felling the tree and concentrated on the thin layer of living tissue (cambium) that is just inside the bark. Herbicides with the active ingredient triclopyr ester can be used for basal bark applications. Only certain triclopyr amine products may be applied to trees that are growing in standing water. If trees are cut at a time when seeds are attached, make sure that the material is disposed of in such a way the seeds will not be dispersed to new areas where they can germinate and produce new trees.
Space in a landscape left after removal of Chinese tallow can be used to plant a new native or noninvasive tree for shade, or some other landscape purpose. Although Florida is not known for the brilliant fall color enjoyed by other northern and western states, there are a number of trees that provide some fall color for our North Florida landscapes. Red maple, Acer rubrum, provides brilliant red, orange and sometimes yellow leaves. The native Florida maple, Acer floridum, displays a combination of bright yellow and orange color during fall. And there are many Trident and Japanese maples that provide striking fall color. Another excellent native tree is Blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica. This tree is a little slow in its growth rate but can eventually grow to seventy-five feet in height. It provides the earliest show of red to deep purple fall foliage. Others include Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, Sumac, Rhus spp. and Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. In cultivated trees that pose no threat to native ecosystems, Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia spp. offers varying degrees of orange, red and yellow in its leaves before they fall. There are many cultivars – some that grow several feet to others that reach nearly thirty feet in height. Also, Chinese pistache, Pistacia chinensis, can deliver a brilliant orange display.
There are a number of dependable oaks for fall color, too. Shumard, Southern Red, and Turkey are a few to consider. These oaks have dark green deeply lobed leaves during summer turning vivid red to orange in fall. Turkey oak holds onto its leaves all winter as they turn to brown and are pushed off by new spring growth. Our native Yellow poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, and hickories, Carya spp., provide bright yellow fall foliage. And it’s difficult to find a more crisp yellow than fallen Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, leaves. These trees represent just a few choices for fall color. Including one or several of these trees in your landscape, rather than allowing the popcorn trees to grow, will enhance the season while protecting the ecosystem from invasive plant pests.
Recently, I spent some time with my uncle at his home in Perry, Florida. Perry specifically and Taylor County as a whole were one of the hardest-hit areas from Hurricane Idalia. My uncle said that most of the powerline poles had been replaced in his and surrounding neighborhoods as a result of this storm. Some were still being replaced when I was there. Every home in the area had large amounts of tree debris cut and piled up along the streets for pickup. Most every pile had the remains of large pine trunks intermingled in the debris.
The only damage to my uncle’s home was from a neighbor’s large pine tree. The top of that tree was blown through the air and slammed into his roof, puncturing the roof and leaving a large hole through the bottom of the garage ceiling. In addition to the direct wind damage and resulting downed trees, with a storm such as Idalia, there will be much follow up removal and pruning of leaning, partly uprooted, and damaged trees.
Trees are an important part of our ecosystem, economy, landscape and heritage here in North Florida. As a matter of fact, Taylor County began a Pine Tree Festival in 1955 to help educate the public about the timber industry in that area. Now known as the Florida Forest Festival, the goal of the festival is to promote the benefits of our state’s forests as well as to celebrate people who protect and work in them. The 68th Annual Florida Forest Festival is scheduled to take place in Perry on October 28, 2023. Here is a link with more information on the festival: https://floridaforestfestival.org.
It is important to not wait until a storm event such as Idalia to inspect and manage trees on your property. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when preventing tree damage. Even without a major storm, we have relatively high winds associated with our frequent thunderstorms here in Florida. Compared to many parts of the United States, we live in a fairly high-risk area for storm damage with lots of large trees.
Professional help sometimes is your best option when dealing with trees. Property damage could be reduced by having a professional arborist evaluate unhealthy, injured or questionable trees to assess risk and treat problems.
Hiring a certified arborist can be a worthwhile investment. To find a certified arborist in your area, contact the International Society of Arboriculture at 888-472-8733 or at www.isa-arbor.com. In addition, here is a UF/IFAS Extension link with a wealth of information related to trees and hurricanes: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/treesandhurricanes.
If there is anything that is more refreshing than the cool shade of a tree on a hot August afternoon, I cannot quite think of it. Here on the Gulf Coast, the thought of the heat in the “Dog Days of Summer” conjures up images of the dogs lying by their owners’ rocking chairs on the veranda – shaded of course by the majestic live oaks out front. If you ever observe older homes in our region, they usually have large established shade trees to shade the house most of the day. In the days before air conditioning, I imagine a world without shade would be intolerable, nigh unlivable. If you have ever had to work on an asphalt parking lot or roof on a 100+ degree August day with no shade, you fully understand the term “heat island”. The steam rising off the same parking lot later after a passing shower or thunderstorm reinforces how hot that surface is.
These past few weeks the oppressive heat has made anything outside unbearable, especially in the heat of the afternoon. You can quickly understand why old farmers in our area worked from sunup to about 10 a.m. or so, then did lighter work in shaded areas or inside. They would go back out and work hard in the cool of the evening too, but you seldom saw anyone out in the open fields during the mid-day heat if it were avoidable. A shade tree in the pasture or up at the house was a welcomed oasis and favorite lunch spot. Going back in the air conditioning just caused you to have more trouble acclimating to the heat and could even cause medical problems if you we very hot and suddenly went into very cool air conditioning. I remember these summer patterns well growing up on the Gulf Coast, and still follow them when doing forestry field work. Being under a closed forest canopy was like being in air conditioning compared to the open sun of a logging deck or pasture. The shade of a tree or a forest canopy offered an amazing relief from the blazing August heat and humidity.
It is impossible to stress enough the importance of individual shade trees and tree cover to our urban areas. Imagine our towns and cities devoid of trees! Imagine Tallahassee without its canopy roads, themselves sort of an early cooling effort for travelers. Without these trees it would make these heat waves, as oppressive as they are already, downright scorching and close to unlivable. If you are doing any gardening or other outdoor activity during these hot days, it is highly likely you seek out a shady area to be in. As that shade moves with the sun through the day it is equally likely that you relocate and follow it as it moves. If you have a neighbor that has no tree cover and shade on their house, and you are on good and friendly terms, ask to compare power bills with them. Odds are their power bill is noticeably higher because they do not have the shade of trees. With all the important features our urban forest provides, we must realize that our trees and the urban forest they form are critical to our urban ecosystem we live in. Yes, I said urban ecosystem; we must remember that we are part of nature too and even though we have altered it to our needs, our urban environment is part of our ecosystem. Trees are the backbone of that here on the Gulf Coast and our cities show it. Gulf Coast cities generally have extensive tree cover, despite our disturbances from Hurricanes.
So, what do these shade trees and urban forests really do for us in terms of actual measurable data? We know from just walking under a tree on a 100+ degree day we can feel the difference but what does it equate to. A study published in the Journal of Forestry in 2018 found that an estimated 5.5 billion urban trees provided an estimated $5.4 billion in energy reduction alone (Nowak and Greenfield 2018). This same study found that Florida was the state with the highest annual urban forestry value with an estimated annual value of $1.9 billion. Those are some impressive numbers and help put the value of urban forests into some monetary terms, but this is just one study. Professionals studying urban forests and their benefits are constantly finding out more on just how valuable our urban tree cover is. A UF-IFAS EDIS publication in 2020 helped to further characterize our urban forests across the state. Urban areas in the Northern part of the state had the highest percentage of canopy cover, with our local Okaloosa-Fort Walton-Destin area being the highest at 74.4% (McLean et al. 2020). Our local Panhandle metropolitan areas all had high canopy cover in the 50% or higher range. That is good news for Panhandle urban areas as this tree cover helps improve quality of life in these areas.
The benefits provided by urban forest cover are not just confined to shade, cooling, and reduced energy use. We get other major benefits from our urban forest and tree cover. The same 2020 UF-IFAS study found that in Florida’s urban areas, trees remove 600,000 tons of air pollutants through their canopies, which results in $605 million in health care savings related to air pollution. Urban tree cover also prevents stormwater runoff into our waterbodies. The study found that Florida’s urban forest cover prevents 50 billion gallons of stormwater runoff, which results in a $451 million saving from avoided stormwater treatment. Those benefits would not be possible without our urban trees. Once you see the numbers, it is clear how our urban forest provides us with so many benefits we rarely see or consider.
When you walk under the shade of a tree or under a forest canopy on these scorching summer days you get an instant reminder of the benefit of that tree cover. The cool relief from the sun and heat is just one of the many benefits our trees and urban forests provide. Trees are one of our favorite parts of the landscape for many reasons and studies that quantify these benefits put in real term just how critical our urban forests are to us. Our tree cover helps clean our air and capture stormwater in our summer downpours. As our communities grow and expand, we need to be sure to preserve the trees we have and plant new ones as the need arises. By keeping our urban forest cover intact, we can enjoy the cool shade and all the other benefits our urban trees provide.
References and further reading:
Nowak, David J; Greenfield, Eric J. 2018. US Urban Forest Statistics, Values, and Projections. Journal of Forestry. 116(2): 164-177.
Recently our area has experienced multiple severe wind events. You may have noticed some light to moderate damage to some of the trees in your yard. You may have even experienced severe damage or a complete failure of a tree on your or a neighbor’s property. While a complete failure or severe damage pose obvious hazards and need removal, it is the more minor to moderate damage that often raises questions on how to address the issue. Hanging broken branches are often called “Hangers” in forestry or tree care circles. These are often smaller to mid-sized branches which have partially broken off but are still lodged in the tree. After several weeks to a month the foliage starts to die and turn brown, and these “hangers” become obvious in trees that received damage. How do you assess these and when should you get a professional involved? Do they pose a potential health issue if not removed?
These broken limbs are becoming quite noticeable as they die and turn brown. It is important to make good decisions on how to handle these hanging dead branches and how to maintain your tree. Often these hangers are more unsightly than anything else, especially if they are small. Larger ones may pose a risk of damage or injury if they are located over a structure or may fall in an area frequented by people. Most of these hangers will break and dislodge over time, especially in wind events. You should consider the risk posed by the hanging limb, the difficulty and cost of addressing it, and the risk posed by the limb falling. For trees that got noticeable damage with several larger limbs broken, having some repair and rejuvenation pruning done is often good for tree health. You may be able to address some issues yourself if you are handy with a pole pruner and the broken limb is in reach. Anyone attempting even light tree work should be aware of risks posed by falling limbs and use of pole saws. Remember to never attempt to climb trees yourself or perform tree trimming from a ladder or height, as this is fundamentally unsafe. Even limbs which may be safely reached from the ground with a pole pruner can pose risks of injury. If you are attempting to remove some of these hangers with a pole pruner, be very cautious and use good safety techniques. You need to make sure the branch has a landing zone, and you are well clear of it when using a pole saw or pruner. Be aware of vines and other entanglements, and do not work around or within the right of way of electrical or other lines. Larger limbs and those not reachable from the ground should be considered outside the scope of homeowners and left to professionals.
Here is a quick reference guide for how to size up any broken or damaged limbs in your tree and address the situation
Small branches and branch tips with a diameter of the broken branch is 1 inch or less and the branch is hanging or lodged. These size hangers pose little risk and are mostly unsightly. They should fall out of the tree on their own over time. These may be trimmed out slightly behind the break of those within reach of a pole pruner.
Small to Medium branches-1-3 inches in diameter. The branch has partially broken or has completely broken and is lodged in another branch. Branches this size can do some light to moderate damage if they fall on a roof, fence, or other structure. If the branch overhangs areas where people or pets frequent it could cause injuries if it fails. If the branch does not pose a hazard or danger it should dislodge on its own over time. Consider removing these if they pose a risk. They can be removed from the ground with a pole pruner or pole saw but be very cautious as branches this size can easily injure someone that is in the fall zone. Consult a professional if a lift or climbing is required.
Large Canopy Branches 3 inches and larger. These are significant branches and can hold a significant amount of weight. If they are partially broken, hung, or lodged in the tree they may come out at any time and do significant damage or cause injury. These branches are beyond the tools and scope of homeowners, and the damage may require some recovery pruning to keep the tree healthy. Consult with a professional and consider having the damage removed and tree properly trimmed.
Main Branch and Trunk Failures- This is significant damage to the tree which can make it unsound or susceptible to disease in the future. If large main branches have failed, the top has completely failed, or part of the trunk has cracked or split from the damage; major damage has occurred and the tree may not recover. If your tree has suffered this level of damage consult a professional with a tree service and have a certified arborist examine the tree.
It can be hard to tell from the ground what level of damage a tree sustained until the brown foliage appears past the break. Once you can identify what type of damage occurred you can better determine what action is needed. For small branches it may be best just to wait for them to come out naturally or prune them out if this can be done safely with a pole pruner. For larger branches or more severe damage a professional is the best bet. For those hangers that pose a risk to structures or people in an area removal is best, as these could fall at any time and cause damage or injury. Remember never to attempt tree work yourself especially if it involves climbing or working from heights. You can find a certified arborist at www.treesaregood.org to address large limbs and significant damage. A good arborist can help you rehabilitate a tree that has had only moderate damage from a storm. If you are unsure of where to start with a tree that has wind damage, consult your local extension office for some advice.
It is the time of year when we get reminded that we have just entered Hurricane season here on the Gulf Coast. Ideally you will have already done your tree maintenance and health checks around your home, but if you have not you can still get a tree care professional out to look at your trees. Maintaining your trees is an important part of storm preparedness. Keeping trees trimmed and in good health ensures that tree risks are minimized during the storm season. Even with proper pruning and maintenance some trees pose a risk due to location, poor structure, or disease. Having a professional assess your tree/trees and come up with a maintenance plan can help you avoid costly damage and keep your tree in good condition.
Trees are a major part of our landscape on the Gulf Coast, especially in our urban areas. They provide so many benefits to the landscape and are often the centerpiece of yards and parks in our urban areas. Without trees we lose the shade and cooling benefits a tree provides, have less habitat for birds and other wildlife, and loose aesthetic values that come with a majestic tree. Trees take a long time to grow and develop as well, so a large well-developed tree is not easily replaced. This naturally leads to a question many people find themselves facing. How do I preserve trees I want but minimize risk to my home and structures? The answer to this question is to assess the condition of the tree, the risk it may pose, and decide on the proper tree maintenance accordingly.
Lots of things go into determining what to do with a tree. The first thing to consider is location of the tree and its limbs. If the tree and its limbs are close to your home, you must consider how to maintain the tree in such a way that risks are minimized. If the tree has structural and/or health problems, you must factor in how these conditions affect the stability and health of a tree. The tree species also determines how it will need to be maintained as well as how stable it is in a wind event. All of these factors play into how to maintain the trees on your landscape, or if the tree poses an unacceptable risk, when to remove trees that may be in decline or present a hazard.
The best course of action is to consult with a tree care professional and develop a tree maintenance plan. Make sure you select a tree care professional with good qualifications, background, and insurance. The top professional credential in tree care is the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA) Certified Arborist. You can search for a Certified Arborist in your area on the ISA Website, Find an Arborist (treesaregood.org). For trees that you are concerned about from a risk perspective consider getting a Tree Risk Assessment. Certain Certified Arborists carry a Tree Risk Assessment Qualification which is a specialty qualification specifically to assess the risk a tree poses. By having your trees examined by an arborist you can make an informed decision on maintaining your landscape trees. For trees that are in good health and are species that do well in high winds, proper maintenance and pruning will assist in keeping the tree in good condition. For trees with health or structural problems or that are species that do poorly in high winds, removal may be needed.
There is no one size fits all solution to tree maintenance and tree risk, but with proper assessment and tree care you can be confident you are making the correct decision. Putting off tree care and assessment is when problems occur. Consulting with an arborist and developing a tree care plan with clear timelines and practices is your best option to maintain your trees and avoid issues with high-risk trees. As painful as it may be, for high-risk trees removal and replacement may be the best option. By consulting with a tree care professional, such as an arborist, you can know your tree conditions and the associated risks and options. With this information in hand, you can make well informed decisions that match your tree health and risk management goals.