Leaves Returning to Trees Stripped Bare by Hurricane Harvey

Brian Donegan
Published: September 14, 2017

Destructive winds from Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph near Rockport, Texas, on Aug. 25, stripped the leaves off many trees.

But there's some good news: After nearly three weeks, the landscape is starting to turn a bit greener as trees begin to grow their leaves back at Goose Island State Park.

Leaves are returning to trees that were stripped bare by Hurricane Harvey at Goose Island State Park near Rockport, Texas.
(Twitter/Texas State Parks)

(MORE: Hurricane Central)

Hurricanes can frequently interrupt a tree’s ability to photosynthesize and store energy.

In response to the damage, the tree sends out epicormic shoots, typically referred to as sprouts, found mostly along the top and at the tips of branches, according to a publication by Edward F. Gilman and Traci Partin of the environmental horticulture department at the University of Florida.

The tree uses energy, or starch, stored in the living wood to produce the sprouts, which temporarily weakens the tree. Allowing sprouts to grow will rebuild the starch reserves and other energy-storing compounds, increasing the strength of the tree over time.

(RECAP: Hurricane Harvey)

The tree's age, size, species, health and the extent of the damage also factor into the recovery. 

In general, younger, smaller trees are able to recover more quickly than older, larger trees. Additionally, healthy trees recover faster than those in poor health, and trees less-severely damaged will sprout more aggressively than those that suffered heavy damage.

Also, live oak and buttonwood trees typically resist decay and recover from damage much better than laurel oaks, which often have severe internal decay after a hurricane, according to Gilman and Partin.

(MORE: After Harvey and Irma, How Much of the Atlantic Hurricane Season is Left?)

Brian Donegan is a digital meteorologist at weather.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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