As the intensity and frequency of strong storms increase, the potential for damage to urban trees also increases. So far, the risk of ultimate failure for partially uprooted trees and how they may recover their stability is not well understood. This study sets out to explore if and to what extent trees can regain anchoring strength after their root systems have been overloaded. In 2010, ten London Plane (Platanus × acerifolia) trees were subjected to destructive winching tests. Two trees were pulled to the ground while eight were loaded until primary anchorage failure occurred and were left standing with inclined stems.

In 2013, two trees had failed and six were re-tested nondestructively. By 2018, another tree had failed, and we tested the remaining five again. Rotational stiffness was derived for all trials and served as a nondestructive proxy for anchoring strength (R² = 0.91). After eight years, one tree had regained its original strength, while four had reached between 71 and 82% of their initial rotational stiffness. However, three trees failed during the observation period.

The results indicate that partially uprooted trees may re-establish stability over time, but some will not and may fail. In our small data set, it was not possible to identify visual criteria that could provide a reliable indication of tree stability recovery, but our data support the assumption that nondestructive pulling tests can be successfully employed to determine good vigorous candidates for retention after partial uprooting.

Further reading

Detter, A.; Wassenaer, P. van; Rust, S. Stability Recovery in London Plane Trees Eight Years After Primary Anchorage Failure. Arboriculture & Urban Forestry 2019, 45, 279–288.