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Freeze damage on East Texas forests begins to surface

TAGS: forestry
Mark Walters tfs-21-tree-freeze-damage-21.jpg
A mix of pine species, north of Overton, Texas, with varying degrees of freeze damage.
Extreme cold triggers normal physiological response in East Texas trees.

It's been over a week since severe winter weather hit East Texas and landowners are beginning to see signs of freeze damage to forest trees.

“The most common sign of freeze damage on trees is the turning of needles and leaves from a dark green to a strange reddish-gray color,” said Eric Taylor, Texas A&M Forest Service silviculturist. “Other than the strange color, the crowns of these trees seem to be fully intact and show minimal breakage from ice loads.”

Typically ice loads create physical tree damage. February’s storm was a different story. Only rarely, in confined areas, were mechanical breakage or severe bending of forest trees found. Last week, Texas A&M Forest Service surveyed more than 509,000 acres in East Texas and found no significant damage to the timber resource.

The extreme cold triggered a normal physiological response in the East Texas trees, explained Taylor. Tree needles and leaves showing signs of freeze damage were likely impaired from the formation of ice crystals inside the leaf cells causing the cell walls to rupture. However, native trees are adapted to this and responded by shutting off (abscising) leaves (needles) that were no longer functioning causing a discoloration of leaves. Fortunately, trees are resilient and have the ability to leaf out again when the initial growth is damaged or destroyed, Taylor added.

Landowners may see freeze damage symptoms on some trees, but not all. Tree species differ when it comes to freeze tolerance as some can tolerate extreme cold better than others.

With pine species, longleaf and slash seem to have less tolerance for freeze than loblolly. Shortleaf pine is more resistant to freezing temperatures and seems to be much less affected than the other pine species, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service foresters.

Trees along the forest edge and/or those taller than surrounding trees with their crowns fully exposed may also experience greater freeze damage than those with crowns somewhat protected by other trees. Most trees in East Texas are expected to survive, Taylor said.

“This is another example of how it pays to proactively manage forests. There will likely be some losses, but if the tree was relatively healthy before the freeze, it should have enough available, stored carbohydrates (food) to set new buds and form new leaves (needles) this spring.”

If the tree was unhealthy prior to the freeze, Taylor said it may not recover or may be the target of insects and disease later this year. But February's freeze also reduced insect populations which should provide a period of respite and time for trees to recover their leaves and needles, Taylor said.

Texas A&M Forest Service foresters are asking landowners not to panic. Damaged trees may have only suffered a temporary setback and healthy trees should produce new growth within a few weeks.  

Homeowners with freeze-damage near their home or other buildings their property, may wish to contact a certified arborist for a closer inspection. A certified arborist will assess whether a tree poses a safety hazard, needs corrective pruning, and the overall health of the tree.

To find an arborist, visit Texas A&M Forest Service’s My Land Management Connector app at: https://texasforestinfo.tamu.edu/MyLandManagementConnector or search online at https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist/findanarborist.

Source: is Texas A&M Forest Service, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
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