New Orleans' Trees Hit by Katrina Face Uncertain Outlook

Sara Goudarzi
for National Geographic News
April 27, 2006

Trees everywhere are sprouting new leaves and blossoms for Arbor Day, celebrated in the United States this year on April 28. But many of New Orleans' trees won't be showing off their crowning glory.

When Hurricane Katrina made a devastating hit on New Orleans last August, many trees were weakened, sheared, or uprooted. But given the severe damage to the city's homes and residents, the trees were the last thing on people's minds.

Now, eight months after the hurricane, a change in the city's landscape is evident.

Living History

New Orleans is home to some of the largest collections of mature trees in the world. The city contains nearly 50 species, including magnolia, pine, live oak, bald cypress (Louisiana's official state tree), and red maple.

These native trees are important not only for humans but also for many birds, which depend on the habitats for feeding and nesting.

"We have many, many significant historic trees," said Tom Campbell of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. "Fortunately, the backbone of the great live oaks still exists."

The picture people have of the urban forest of New Orleans is attributed to the live oaks—a species that stays green and live during the winter months when other oaks are dormant and appear lifeless.

"That image of New Orleans will survive," Campbell said.

However, many of the other trees did not withstand the storm as well as the live oaks.

After Katrina, much of New Orleans sat in water for two to three weeks. That affected the majority of the city's trees, and the water oaks suffered the most.

"Two-thirds of the city lost every magnolia tree, which affects the character of the tree canopy greatly," Campbell said. "It looks like the dickens."

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