Smart Growth in Urban Forestry;  Using Hurricane Resistant Trees


By: Beau Brodbeck
Extension Specialist, Urban and Community Forestry

Southern Magnolia


For urban foresters, city horticulturalists, and public works crews still in the process of recuperating from last year’s series of hurricanes, the idea of a similar season is depressing at best.  Many communities have removed, pruned, and begun replanting urban forests to fill in the increasingly more noticeable gaps as spring comes into full bloom.  With a worrying hurricane season approaching the need for smart growth in urban forestry is important and residents of hurricane prone communities must consider planting hurricane resistant tree species to plan for future storm events. 


Planning an urban forest that matches the hurricane prone ecosystem is important.  In the past there have been trends to plant non-native trees in our urban forests with low storm resistance.  Previous fads like Bradford Pair (Pyrus calleryana) and non-native red and silver maples (Acer rubrum and saccharinum), once very popular, are now causing problems in communities as their low storm resistance causes these trees to break, split, and blow-over.  The use of these low storm resistant species causes increased property damage, work for city urban foresters and personnel, and reduces the urban forest canopy cover.  The need for careful tree selection to ensure trees with high resistance to hurricanes are planted is needed. 

Research from the University of Florida and Auburn University has developed lists of trees with high resistance to hurricanes.  These lists were developed by researchers visiting and sampling urban trees in communities impacted by hurricanes.  Trees were assessed in urban neigborhoods for every major hurricane from Andrew in 1992 through Katrina and Rita last year along the Gulf Coast.   The results are a list of trees with high resistance to hurricanes, generally comprised of native tree species.  Trees indigenous to coastal Alabama have developed in an ecosystem where frequent storms have enabled these trees to develop characteristics that allow them to survive in this hurricane environment. 

Native trees species with wide spreading branches, small leaf size, low centers of gravity and planted in groupings seem to hold up better during storm events.  Research has also indicated that slower growing trees generally have stronger wood characteristics that are more hurricane resistant than many of the faster growing trees with weaker wood fiber strength.  So while it may take many of these tree species longer to grow, they will likely be around for many more years after a hurricane.

Increasing the use of these trees with a high resistance to hurricanes on city right-of-ways, in parks and on private yards will decrease damage and retain the green spaces within our communities.  With fewer tree losses your community will recover faster and retain its urban forest, increasing the beauty and livability of you community while reducing work for yourself and your urban forester.  Consider working with your local Extension agents, Urban Foresters, or City Horticulturalists to plant hurricane resistant trees to improve your urban forest’s resistance to storms.  Consider planting some of the following trees next time you look to replace a tree:

Small to Medium Sized Trees Large Trees
Ironwood Carpinus caroliniana

Florida Sugar Maple

Acer saccharum subsp f.

Redbud Cercis canadensis

River Birch

Betula nigra

White Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus

Sweetbay Magnolia

Magnolia virginiana

Dogwood Cornus florida

Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora

Carolina Silverbell Halesia tetraptera

Black Tupelo

Nyssa sylvatica

American Holly

Ilex opaca

White Ash

Fraxinus americana


Koelreuteria paniculata

Live Oak

Quercus virginiana

Sand Live oak

Quercus geminata

Bald Cypress

Taxodium  distichum


Vitex agnus castus

Schumard Oak

Quercus schumardii

Saucer Magnolia

Magnolia soulangiana

Swamp Chestnut

Qurecus michauxii

(Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University)


For additional information contact Beau Brodbeck at the Baldwin County Extension Office in Bay Minette Alabama by email at or by phone at 251-937-7176.

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