Hurricane Wilma (2005)

On the morning of Monday, October 24th, 2005, Hurricane Wilma bisected peninsular South Florida, causing serious damage to Collier, Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties. As this Category Three hurricane moved very quickly, the worst winds lasted only a few hours. Nevertheless, Hurricane Wilma had a significant effect on Montgomery Botanical Center’s plant collections.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Montgomery evaluated its assessment and recovery procedures. From the lessons learned, we developed an improved emergency response protocol which was in place one week prior to Hurricane Wilma’s arrival (click here to view the PDF document). The new protocol streamlined the immediate response to Hurricane Wilma, ensuring the greatest survival of damaged plants.

The plant-by-plant damage assessment of the cycad, palm, and dicot collections took more than 13 full days and was completed on Thursday, November 10th. Below are the damage numbers.


Destroyed (K)1 Damaged2 (K)1 Toppled3 (K)1
Cycads 0 (0) 178 (+523%) 89 (+133%)
Palms 139 (+290%) 1,407 (+156%) 298 (+144%)
Dicots4 38 (-223%) 656 (+221%) 152 (+122%)
177 (+133%) 2,241 (+182%) 539 (+135%)
1 These columns represent a comparison of the damage inflicted on the various plant collections by Hurricane Wilma with that inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.
2 This category includes plants that sustained damage to leaves/branches and/or buds and require trimming.
3 Plants in this category are either leaning or completely toppled, but they have a good chance of surviving once they are righted and staked.
4 Some trees were recorded as damaged and toppled if branches were broken when the tree fell. Damage to dicots includes canopy loss ranging from minor (leaf shredding/loss or small branches broken) to complete. If we thought the tree had any chance at all of recovering after losing 100% of its canopy, it was counted as damaged, not destroyed. It is likely that many of the “damaged” trees will either ultimately die or will recover and be such poor specimens that they will need to be removed.

Photos of Dicot Collection Damage

Photos of Cycad Collection Damage

Photos of Palm Collection Damage

Photos of Damage to the Nursery

Photos of Cleanup Effort

The Opportunities in Damaged Specimens

One of the few good things to come out of this hurricane was the use, by researchers, of some of the downed plant material. Here are two examples:

The above photo shows a slice of palm trunk cut by Dr. Jack Fisher and Dr. Scott Zona for studies on palm “wood” at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

In the photo on the right, Dr. Ron Cave and his assistant (from the University of Florida’s Indian River Research & Education Center in Ft. Pierce) loaded up a truck with native Tillandsia bromeliads that fell out of the trees at Montgomery Botanical Center during the storm. Dr. Cave is conducting research on biological control of an imported weevil species that is feeding on the native bromeliads. These plants will be used to feed the weevils during various biocontrol experiments

With thousands of plants, historical properties, and a full staff of locals, planning and responding to major weather disasters can be a challenging undertaking. You can help us do both by contributing to our Disaster Recovery Fund.

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