Best and worst trees


IRONWOOD (Exothea paniculata): This little-known tree with a nice canopy grows to about 40 to 50 feet. A native hardwood, it provides good shade and has shown it is resistant to hurricane winds. The tiny fragrant blooms and glossy leaves make it an attractive choice, but the Miami-Dade County Adopt-a-Tree program suggests you plant it at least 20 feet away from your house. The wood is quite strong and has been used in boat construction and for making tool handles and candlesticks.

CANARY ISLAND DATE PALM (Phoenix canariensis): These palms, related to the pygmy date palm, hold up well in strong winds and survived Hurricanes Andrew and Wilma. Despite a huge crown, they are some of the most stable large trees, growing up to 60 feet tall. But they have some pest problems and are expensive. A 6-foot-tall canary palm retails for about $1,000, compared to $200 for a sabal palm, according to Pat Malcolm, owner of Ty Ty Nursery in Ty Ty, Ga. Experts suggest using them as focal points on large properties or at entrances of gated communities.

LIVE OAK (Quercus virginiana): A large native tree that grows to about 50 feet, it has been called the most wind-tolerant shade tree for Florida. Some died where Hurricane Charley made landfall, but not far away they survived and started growing leaves three months after the storm. It was the top shade tree to survive Hurricane Camille, the strongest hurricane to hit the United States. But during Hurricane Wilma many split in half or fell over. The roots need room to spread, and it can become unstable if planted on residential properties with small yards.

PYGMY DATE PALM (Phoenix roebelenii): One of the best trees for wind tolerance in South Florida, it survived Hurricanes Andrew and Wilma and fared well last year in Vero Beach when hurricane winds hit more than 120 mph. It did not need restaking or pruning. This slow-growing feather palm from Laos and southeast Asia reaches about 10 feet and comes with single or multiple trunks.

SABAL PALM (Sabal palmetto): Buildings around sabals fell apart last year while these tough native palms remained standing in Punta Gorda. They survived winds of more than 145 mph during Hurricane Andrew and did well during Hurricane Wilma. Because they are less attractive than other palms, some gardeners don't think they are appropriate for front yards. Plant a few trees close together in back yards to protect plants underneath. They grow to about 50 feet and thrive in almost all conditions.

SOURCES: Pamela crawford,,,, Betrock's guide to landscape plants and native Florida plants, James Davidson of the Palm Beach Cooperative extension service, Miami/Dade adopt -a-tree, native Florida trees. Photos/Joan Brookwell, Pamela Crawford; staff file photos.


Hurricane Wilma showed us the folly of planting the wrong tree in the wrong place. Pamela Crawford, author of Stormscaping, suggests we avoid these six trees when we replace damaged ones:

AUSTRALIAN PINE (Casuarina equisetifolia L.): One of the worst trees to have near your house during a hurricane, its shallow roots cause it to topple and expose a large, expensive-to-remove root balls. This non-native is also disliked because it is invasive. During Hurricane Andrew, 96 percent fell and 60 percent of the trash from Hurricane Charley on Sanibel and Captiva islands was Australian pine debris. Remove Australian pines within falling distance of your house.

FICUS (Ficus benjamina): One of the most destructive trees in South Florida, it has shallow roots and a dense canopy, making it a prime blow-over candidate. The root balls are huge, making it dangerous and expensive to remove. Less than 50 percent were left standing after Hurricane Andrew; some went down in only 60-mph winds. Proper pruning and allowing aerial roots to grow increases stability. Substitute the native strangler fig.

LAUREL OAK (Quercus laurifolia): The native laurel oaks fell down more than any other tree during last year's four hurricanes. Weaker and shorter lived than live oaks, this fast grower can reach 70 feet. South Florida didn't have the fatalities of Central and North Florida, where winds were stronger and trees were older. The ones most affected were more than 40 years old. Remove laurel oaks within falling distance of your house.

MAHOGANY (Swietenia mahogani): Although professionals disagree about this native tree's wind tolerance, the wood is brittle and branches break up even in low winds. It looks ravaged after a storm, but it will rarely uproot. Improper pruning and trees with competing leaders contribute to branches breaking and splitting. A shade tree, most are 30 to 40 feet tall, but it can grow to 70 feet.

QUEEN PALM (Syagrus romanzoffiana): Many palms do well in hurricanes, but the queen is the exception. One of the most common palms used in Central and South Florida, they fell down during last year's hurricanes all over the state - from Punta Gorda to Palm Beach Gardens. Queens uproot rather than snap at the trunk. It was one of the five species that did the most damage during Hurricane Andrew. Remove those within falling distance of your house.

TABEBUIA (Tabebuia spp): They have beautiful blooms in the spring but are one of our least wind-tolerant trees. They can fall down in winds of only 25 mph. During last year's hurricanes, the negative reports involved only the yellow tabebuia, not the pink version. If you have one of these trees and want to save it, make sure it is permanently staked.