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Storm-Resistant Trees for Mississippi Landscapes

Publication Number: P3111
View as PDF: P3111.pdf

Mississippi has a humid, subtropical climate. Summers are long and hot, but winters are relatively mild. Prevailing southerly winds much of the year bring warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico across the state. Precipitation is distributed through the year with north Mississippi receiving about 55 inches and southern Mississippi about 65 inches. Southern Mississippi experiences more thunderstorms and hurricanes than the rest of the state.

The length of the state north to south spans several cold-hardiness zones, from 7b (5–10ºF average coldest temperatures) in north Mississippi to 9a (20–25ºF average coldest temperatures) on the coast. Mississippi also has its share of stormy weather. These include occasional ice storms in winter; high winds from thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes; flooding from torrential rains; and storm surges from hurricanes.

While native vegetation has adapted to a wide variety of environmental conditions, some species are better able to survive storm events than others. It makes sense to choose tree species for the landscape that can withstand these natural events. Storm-resistant trees will make your property safer and reduce future tree maintenance costs. This publication provides an overview of tree species that are capable of surviving winter ice, high winds, extensive flooding, and salt spray or seawater inundation. Very few tree species are resistant to all these storm conditions, so prioritize those that are most likely to impact your landscape.

Ice Resistance

Occasional ice storms in Mississippi can be devastating to trees. Such storms occur when the polar jet stream dips south in the winter. This phenomenon is known as the “Siberian Express,” and it brings arctic air and prolonged freezing temperatures to the state. If a wet warm front follows, then freezing rain and ice damage may result. In February 1994, a slow-moving front caused a severe ice storm in the Deep South—across Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Estimated damage was over $3 billion, and a million people were without power, some over a month.

Tree species vary in their tolerance to ice accumulation. Those species most resistant to breakage from ice generally have strong branch attachment, flexible branches, low branch surface area, and straight trunks. Ice-tolerant species having one or more of these characteristics include bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), black walnut (Juglans nigra), and Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana; Figure 1).

Four trees with green foliage in the foreground, and many more trees in the background. Close-up of a stem with needle-like leaves and several small, white berries.

Figure 1. Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) is resistant to ice and tolerant of salt spray and saline soil. The tree can grow on a wide variety of sites, including alkaline soils. It is evergreen, and its leaves form overlapping scales.

Wind Resistance

Severe winds from thunderstorms are common in Mississippi, occurring an average of 55 days per year in northern counties and 75 days per year in southern counties. Storms occurring in late autumn and early spring may be associated with fronts having very high winds. Indeed, tornadoes often accompany these frontal systems crossing the state. Mississippi ranks eighth nationally in the frequency of tornadoes per 10,000 square miles. Hurricanes also bring very high winds; Mississippi has experienced 19 in the state since 1851.

Tree species vary widely in their ability to tolerate high winds, and the ability of any individual tree to survive wind will also depend on its health. However, there are some characteristics that enable trees to adapt to high wind. For instance, some tree species will defoliate during extreme winds, which increases their chances of survival. These include live oak (Quercus virginiana; Figure 2), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). Wood characteristics, such as high wood density or high elasticity, can help trees survive high winds. Live oaks have very dense wood. Some species with open crowns or pruned canopies survive high winds better. Trees with tapered crowns, such as Eastern redcedar, have survived high winds.

A very large, sprawling tree with bottom branches that touch the ground and dark green foliage. Close-up of several bunches of shiny, green leaves.

Figure 2. Live oak (Quercus virginiana) is highly wind resistant and tolerant of salt spray and saline soil. It has a unique form, with a spreading canopy that grows wider than tall. Its foliage is evergreen and has a thick, waxy coating.

Flood Tolerance

Flash flooding from torrential rain can become a problem when drainage is blocked in low areas and water covers the soil. Extended periods of flooding from overflowing rivers especially during the growing season can be very damaging to trees. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. It was one of the deadliest and most damaging hurricanes on record. Although the eye made landfall over Louisiana, the storm surge inundated the Gulf Coast from Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle. New Orleans was flooded by 20 feet of water after several levees broke. Damage from Louisiana to west Florida was estimated to exceed $100 billion.

Tree species have varying tolerance to flooding. Tree roots need oxygen, and most tree species will not tolerate flooding during the growing season. In addition, individual tree age impacts tolerance to flooding. Mature, vigorously growing trees of tolerant species are best able to withstand flooding. On the other hand, tree seedlings may not survive being covered with siltation from river flooding. Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum; Figure 3) is an example of a flood-tolerant tree. It is a relatively slow-growing tree commonly found on wet sites near flowing streams or rivers. This deciduous conifer’s needles drop in the autumn.

A large, pyramid-shaped tree in front of a pond. Close-up of needle-like leaves and two round, woody cones.

Figure 3. Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) is an all-around storm-resistant tree. It is resistant to ice and wind, as well as tolerant of flooding, salt spray, and saline soil.

Salt Tolerance

Most land plants are adapted to fresh water. Since Mississippi experiences abundant rainfall through the year, saline soils are usually not a problem for our trees. However, trees in coastal counties regularly experience salt spray and seawater inundation.

When ocean waves break or high winds whip whitecaps, the atmosphere carries particles of salt. This sea spray can be carried as far as 15 miles inland. Vegetation growing in coastal areas must be able to tolerate this salt. The sodium in salt spray or seawater can have detrimental effects on trees, including damaged or disfigured foliage, reduced growth, or even death. The American holly (Ilex opaca; Figure 4) is tolerant to salt spray.

A large pyramid-shaped tree with green foliage. Close-up of a bunch of green leaves with sharp teeth on the edges and several bunches of red berries.

Figure 4. The American holly (Ilex opaca) is tolerant of salt spray and is wind resistant.

The other challenge to coastal vegetation is seawater contamination of fresh water and soils, which typically occurs along coastal creeks or rivers and barrier islands. The storm surge from hurricanes or tropical storms may contaminate soils and fresh water as far as 30 miles inland. This can be a problem for forested wetlands because these areas drain slowly.

Other potential sources of salt contamination of soil and runoff include the salt used to remove ice from roads and highways and fertilizers on cultivated areas. This is usually temporary because Mississippi’s abundant precipitation leaches salt through the soil. Leaching varies with soil texture and drainage, occurring more effectively in sandy soils than clay.

Too much salt in the soil can have multiple environmental effects. It can interfere with water absorption by plant roots, leading to death. High levels of salt can also degrade soil structure and lead to compaction, which decreases plant root respiration and expansion. Incorporating more organic matter into the soil can help prevent compaction. The southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora; Figure 5) tolerates saline soil and salt spray. It is an evergreen hardwood as well as the state tree and flower.

A large tree in front of an old building. Close-up of a white flower and a white bud on bunches of shiny, green leaves.

Figure 5. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) tolerates both salt spray and saline soil. It is also wind resistant.

Storm-Resistant Trees

Table 1 presents relative storm resistance for established trees with well-developed root systems. Individual trees will vary in their ability to survive storm damage, so use Table 1 as a guide. The major common name for a tree is given, followed by its scientific name in italics. The taxonomy presented is in accordance with the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Plants Database (https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/java/). Table 1 also provides information on ice and wind resistance, as well as tolerance to flooding, salt spray, and saline soil. Mississippi Trees (Mississippi Forestry Commission, 2016) has photos of most of the trees on this list.

Not all trees listed will grow everywhere in Mississippi. It is important to match tree preferences with the landscape characteristics. Some species, like southern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana var silicicola) will only grow in coastal Mississippi. On the other hand, Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) will grow throughout most of the state except the Delta region and coastal counties.

Several tree species that are resistant to storm stresses are not necessarily suitable to plant for other reasons. Among these are green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and white ash (Fraxinus americana), which are susceptible to the emerald ash borer (EAB; Agrilus planipennis). Once this borer attacks an ash, the tree will die within a few years. The EAB has not yet been documented in Mississippi but has been found in all adjacent states.

Other trees have brittle wood and should not be planted near structures, driveways, or roads. These include boxelder (Acer negundo), Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), red maple (Acer rubrum), and silver maple (Acer saccharinum). Finally, make sure your selected tree is not an invasive plant. Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) is wind resistant but also a nonnative invasive. If you’re not sure, contact your local MSU Extension agent.

Table 1. Storm-resistant trees for Mississippi.

Tree

Species

Ice resistant1

Wind resistant2

Flood tolerant3

Salt spray tolerant4

Saline soil tolerant4

American beech

Fagus grandifolia

   

X

   

American holly

Ilex opaca

 

X

 

X

 

American hornbeam

Carpinus caroliniana

X

X

     

American sycamore

Platanus occidentalis

 

X

X

   

American witchhazel

Hamamelis virginiana

X

       

Bald cypress

Taxodium distichum

X

X

X

X

X

Bitternut hickory

Carya cordiformis

X

       

Black cherry

Prunus serotina

     

X

 

Black locust

Robinia pseudoacacia

     

X

X

Black walnut

Juglans nigra

X

   

X

X

Black willow

Salix nigra

   

X

   

Blackgum

Nyssa sylvatica

X

X

 

X

 

Boxelder

Acer negundo

   

X

   

Bur oak5

Quercus macrocarpa

X

 

X

   

Cabbage palm

Sabal palmetto

 

X

 

X

X

Carolina laurelcherry

Prunus caroliniana

       

X

Chaste tree5

Vitex agnus-castus

       

X

Chickasaw plum

Prunus angustifolia

 

X

     

Chinese magnolia5

Magnolia × soulangiana

 

X

     

Common buttonbush

Cephalanthus occidentalis

   

X

   

Common persimmon

Diospyros virginiana

 

X

X

X

X

Crapemyrtle5

Lagerstroemia indica

 

X

     

Dahoon

Ilex cassine

 

X

     

Eastern cottonwood

Populus deltoides

   

X

   

Eastern redbud

Cercis canadensis

 

X

     

Eastern redcedar

Juniperus virginiana

X

   

X

X

Eastern swampprivet

Forestiera acuminata

   

X

   

Farkleberry

Vaccinium arboreum

 

X

     

Flowering dogwood

Cornus florida

 

X

     

Green ash

Fraxinus pennsylvanica

   

X

X

 

Honeylocust

Gleditsia triacanthos

   

X

X

X

Hophornbeam

Ostrya virginiana

X

X

     

Inkberry

Ilex glabra

 

X

 

X

 

Japanese maple5

Acer palmatum

 

X

     

Laurel oak

Quercus laurifolia

 

X

     

Live oak

Quercus virginiana

 

X

 

X

X

Longleaf pine

Pinus palustris

     

X

 

Maidenhair tree5

Ginkgo biloba

X

   

X

 

Mockernut hickory

Carya tomentosa

 

X

     

Myrtle oak

Quercus myrtifolia

 

X

     

Nuttall oak

Quercus texana

   

X

   

Overcup oak

Quercus lyrata

   

X

   

Pecan

Carya illinoinensis

 

X

X

   

Pignut hickory

Carya glabra

X

X

     

Pin oak

Quercus palustris

   

X

   

Planertree

Planera aquatica

   

X

   

Pond cypress

Taxodium ascendens

 

X

X

   

Possumhaw

Ilex decidua

   

X

   

Post oak

Quercus stellata

 

X

     

Red maple

Acer rubrum

   

X

   

River birch

Betula nigra

 

X

     

Sand live oak

Quercus geminata

 

X

     

Saw palmetto

Serenoa repens

     

X

X

Shagbark hickory

Carya ovata

X

       

Shumard oak

Quercus shumardii

 

X

     

Silver maple

Acer saccharinum

   

X

   

Slash pine

Pinus elliottii

       

X

Southern catalpa

Catalpa bignonioides

X

       

Southern crab apple

Malus angustifolia

X

X

     

Southern magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora

 

X

 

X

X

Southern redcedar

Juniperus virginiana var silicicola

     

X

X

Southern sugar maple

Acer floridanum

 

X

     

Staghorn sumac

Rhus typhina

     

X

X

Sugarberry

Celtis laevigata

   

X

   

Swamp chestnut oak

Quercus michauxii

 

X

     

Swamp white oak

Quercus bicolor

X

 

X

   

Sweetbay

Magnolia virginiana

 

X

   

X

Sweetgum

Liquidambar styraciflua

X

X

X

X

 

Turkey oak

Quercus laevis

 

X

     

Water oak

Quercus nigra

 

X

X

   

Water hickory

Carya aquatica

   

X

   

Water locust

Gleditsia aquatica

   

X

   

Water tupelo

Nyssa aquatica

 

X

X

   

Wax myrtle

Morella cerifera

     

X

X

White ash

Fraxinus americana

 

X

X

X

X

White fringetree

Chionanthus virginicus

 

X

   

X

White oak

Quercus alba

X

     

X

Willow oak

Quercus phellos

   

X

X

 

Winged elm

Ulmus alata

 

X

X

   

Yaupon

Ilex vomitoria

 

X

 

X

X

 

1Hauer, Wang, and Dawson (1993) evaluated damage to numerous species of urban trees after an ice storm by comparing to a pre-storm tree inventory. They found that tree form, strength of limb joints, and overall tree size were related to subsequent ice damage. Later, Hauer, Dawson, and Werner (2006) published a more comprehensive summary of their research on tree resistance to ice damage in urban forests. Their findings included assessments on tree species, age and form of the tree, and particularly the ability of tree branch junctures to withstand ice loads.

2Duryea, Kampf, and Littell (2007) and Duyea and Kampf (2017) assessed tree damage resulting from nine hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico between 1992 and 2004, with sustained winds between 85 and 165 miles per hour. The first assessment surveyed homeowners regarding tree damage after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. For the remaining eight hurricanes, researchers surveyed arborists, urban foresters, and forest scientists.

3Bratkovich, Burban, Katovich, Locey, Pokorny, and Wiest (1993) published an assessment of flooding effects on trees along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Flood tolerance indicates that tree species are able to survive standing water through at least one growing season. Clatterbuck (2005) was an additional source for flood-tolerant trees.

4Tolerance to salt spray and seawater inundation were compiled from the following sources: Appleton, Greene, Smith, French, Kane, Fox, Downing, and Gilland (2015); Ruter and Pennisi (2017); Smith 2019.

5Non-native ornamental.

References

Appleton, B., Greene, V., Smith, A., French, S., Kane, B., Fox, L., Downing, A., & Gilland, T. (2015). Trees and shrubs that tolerate saline soils and salt spray drift. Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, publication 430-031. https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/pubs_ext_vt_edu/en/author/f/french-susan-c.resource.html

Bratkovich, S., Burban, L., Katovich, S., Locey, C., Pokorny, J., & Wiest, R. (1993). Flooding and its effect on trees. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Area State & Private Forestry. https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/10885

Clatterbuck, W. K. (2005). Shade and flood tolerance of trees. University of Tennessee, Ag Extension Service, publication SP 656. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_agexfores/60/

Clatterbuck, W. K., & Fare, D. C. (1998). Trees to reconsider before planting. University of Tennessee, Ag Extension Service, publication SP 512. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_agexfores/47/

Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University. (n.d.) Mississippi climate. http://www.geosciences.msstate.edu/state-climatologist/climate/

Duryea, M. L., Kampf, E., & Littell, R. C. (2007). Hurricanes and the urban forest: I. Effects on southeastern United States Coastal Plain tree species. Arboriculture & Urban Forestry 33(2), 83–97. http://treesarecool.com/Trees_pdfs/TreeSpecies.pdf

Duryea, M. L., & Kampf, E. (2017). Selecting Coastal Plain species for wind resistance. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, publication FPR 119. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fr174

Hauer, R. J., Dawson, J. O., & Werner, L. P. (2006). Trees and ice storms: The development of ice storm-resistant urban tree populations (2nd ed.). UNL Digital Commons. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nebforestpubs/75/

Hauer, R. J., Wang, W., & Dawson, J. O. (1993). Ice storm damage to urban trees. Journal of Arboriculture 19(4), 187–194.

Maddox, V., & Kelly, L. S. (2017). Selecting landscape trees with special comments on invasive and native plants. Mississippi State University Extension, publication 2679. http://extension.msstate.edu/publications/selecting-landscape-trees-special-comments-invasive-and-native-plants

Miller, J. H. (2003). Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: A field guide for identification and control. USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, GTR SRS 062. https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/gtr/gtr_srs062/

Mississippi Forestry Commission. (2016). Mississippi trees (2nd ed.). https://www.mfc.ms.gov/programs/educational-workshops/publications/

Ruter, J. M., & Pennisi, B. V. (2017). Selecting salt-tolerant native trees for the Georgia coast. University of Georgia Extension, bulletin 1477. https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1477&title=Selecting%20Salt-Tolerant%20Native%20Trees%20for%20the%20Georgia%20Coast

Smith, B. H. (2019). Salt-tolerant plants for the South Carolina coast. Clemson University, Plant & Garden Information Center, fact sheet HGIC 1730. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/salt-tolerant-plants-for-the-south-carolina-coast/

United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. (2019). National Plants Database. https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/java/

United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. (2012). Plant hardiness zone map. https://plants.usda.gov/hardiness.html


Publication 3111 (POD-02-21)

By John D. Kushla, PhD, Extension/Research Professor, North Mississippi Research and Extension Center, and Extension Forestry Specialist.

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Authors

Portrait of Dr. John Kushla
Extension/Research Professor
Agroforestry, Christmas trees, GIS, forest soils, pine silviculture

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