The Curved Forest
By Alice Mary Herden
While on a freelance assignment, I wrote a series of articles about those that work within the Florida Forest Service (FFS) based out of the Withlacoochee Headquarters in Brooksville, FL. During a ride-along with Bob Lindemuth and Eryn Williamson from the FFS, they showed me an incredible and unique area of Richloam WMA.
From a person that has limited knowledge of forest ecology, this definitely could have been a scene straight out of the movie Sleepy Hollow. My mind flooded with questions. Why are the trees bent? Why are these bent but not the ones a half-mile east or west of them?
Surprisingly I am not the only one that had this curious question. As I researched, many have asked the same question, “Why are the trees bent?” There is even an area located just outside of Gryfino, Poland, that has an incredible section of bent trees.
Many theories arose from this question, but the real answer is really based on the location and history of the forest.
Trying to find the answer on how the trees came to be in Richloam WMA, I reached out to Scott A. Sager Undergrad Programs, Facilities and Operations, and ACF Forester with UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources & Conservation.
This is typically the response to some physical impact that pushed the tree “off-center”… most likely a hurricane, but it could be any strong storm, an animal, people, flood, etc. Pine trees are “apically dominate”, which means they tend to have a central stem and a dominant leader, as opposed to a lot of hardwoods. Obviously, these are generalizations… there are a lot of variations on this due to growing conditions, nutrient deficiencies, health/disease issues, etc.
Regardless, those curved trees were probably shifted off-center by a storm… given their age and location, I would suspect one of the 2004 hurricanes (probably Charlie, but could have been Ivan moving up the coast, or Francis or Jeanne for that matter… that was a hell of a year). The trees were bent over by the wind, and were young enough to survive but not young enough to immediately shift back, and began growing at that angle.
However, because they are driven to reach the sun, they began bending back towards upright. Sometimes the trees actually “overshoot”… they bend back but then because they’re unbalanced actually exceed “center” and then reverse course in another curve. The straight trees surrounding could have been younger/smaller and avoided the worst of the wind (they could have grown much faster than their damaged peers), or the vagaries of wind impacts might have just missed impacting them.
So, to me, that makes complete sense. The intense storms that plummet Florida over the years had affected the growth structure of these pine trees, and the logical explanation for this particular part of the forest is a tornado.
I would love to elaborate on the growth stages of the longleaf pine, weather, and so forth. But, for this particular article, I wanted you to see that the forest has many stories to tell photographically. Take a day to explore the upland pines in your area. See if you find any uniquely shaped pines and capture their stories through your lens.