Just as birds provide a great service to plants by dispersing their seeds over a wide area, so too does a hurricane. The power of wind scatters seeds and fruits great distances. Winds that blow at hurricane force for hours and hours at a time in one direction disperse seeds to new locations. The new locations may favor germination, while other locations may not.
Because hurricanes are usually a late-summer/early-autumn event, the season is treacherous for the journey of migratory birds flying south from northern breeding grounds to their winter homes in the South. Two of the most powerful storms ever recorded, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, have impacted the birds’ eastern flyway to Florida and central flyway through the gulf states. In some instances, birds get “caught up” in the eye of the hurricane where they are carried along for hundreds of miles off course.
When so many trees and plants are stripped of their leaves, birds may find fewer food resources. Fruiting fall flowers may fail to bloom. Flooding can drown plants, and high winds rip their roots out of the ground. Insect populations may become decimated.
It’s been documented that birds find refuge in the eye of hurricanes and are carried off course by the storms. In survival mode, the birds often return to their starting point in migration.
Bees do surprisingly well in high winds, but when fruit, flowers and leaves are stripped from trees and plants, there is less food available for ants. Consequently, where plant-friendly bee colonies exist, ants may move into the hives forcing the bees out.
Hurricanes, like most natural forces, produce winners and losers.
- Orchids use strong winds to spread their seeds.
- Spadefoot toads breed during heavy rainfall.
- Ground birds find ground shelter beneath downed trees and brush.
- Migrating birds are blown off course and the weaker are separated from the flock.
- Squirrels toss their young ones out of the nests when nuts become scarce on the trees.
- Sea turtle nests on beaches can be washed out to sea before hatchlings arrive.
While researching for this article, we ran across a very interesting paper written in September, 1945, entitled Hurricane Damage to Tropical Plants. We believe this 1945 hurricane (they had no names then) has had a lasting impact on which tropical plants are used and not used in south Florida in the decades since.