A Wind in the Willows (and Cedars, Firs, Maples…)

How some trees react to high winds.

A broken <em>Acer macrophyll </em> (Big Leaf Maple) um stem located at the east end of Loderi Valley in the Washington Park Arboretum
A broken Acer macrophyllum (Big Leaf Maple) stem located at the east end of Loderi Valley in the Washington Park Arboretum

1)  Pseudotsuga menziesii                Douglas Fir

  • The detritus lying on the ground following a wind event in the Pacific Northwest provides ample evidence of how P. menziesii defends itself against wind.
  • The wood of P. menziesii is brittle and can snap. When a strong wind acts on a Douglas Fir, the tree sacrifices small pieces of foliage to shed the wind’s energy.

2)  Thuja plicata                Western Red Cedar

  • In contrast to Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar limbs are fibrous and tenaciously strong. Long, bendable limbs whip and swing in the wind, but rarely break.
  • The wind’s energy is transferred to the trunk and the cedar relies on its massive girth and extensive root system to keep it upright.

3)  Populus trichocarpa                Black Cottonwood

  • In growth, P. trichocarpa sacrifices strength for speed.
  • Just to the northwest of our Overlook Pond, a massive black cottonwood demonstrates how weak wood tends to shatter under stress.

4)  Salix spp.                Willow

  • Often growing in wet bottomlands, the roots of willows can be shallow mats that are relatively easy to peel up when a strong wind levers a tall tree.

5)  Acer macrophyllum                Big Leaf Maple

  • The wood of Acer macrophyllum is strong but heavy. The massive, reaching limbs can shatter mid-limb when wind pulls on the sail-like leaves.
  • A recent example is located at the east end of Loderi Valley just above Arboretum Drive, although many of our big-leaf maples are festooned with “storm stubs.”