Cyclone Gita vs NZ Beech Forest

“Tropical Cyclone Gita was the most intense tropical cyclone to impact Tonga since reliable records began.”

After bashing a path through our Pacific Island neighbours, Gita headed for the western coast of New Zealand, officially downgraded to a “strong ex-tropical cyclone”

I was at our land on the NZ’s West Coast when the storm hit. Intense rain and huge wind gusts began to take their toll on the surrounding beech forest. Twenty meter tall Red Beech and Silver Beech trees were waving to and fro like blades of grass, branches colliding and breaking off. Then with a loud crack! a big tree begins to fall, colliding with it’s neighbours creating a random domino pattern of tumbling beech trees.

Here is some video taken during the height of the storm

A few weeks later I returned with the drone and got some aerial video of the storm damage in the neighbouring forest

Now some of these fallen trees are over 20m tall and easily 50+ years in age. They haven’t seen weather like this during their lifetime.

The fact that we are seeing more of these Tropical Storms reaching New Zealand in recent times are perhaps a harbinger of things to come as climate change accelerates.

Despite the rawness of the damage seen in the video, Windthrow is a key factor in regeneration within our NZ Beech Forests. This is nicely described by this excerpt from John Wardle’s  2005 article on Black beech management in NZ Tree Grower magazine…

In some years seed production is prolific. These are known as mast years and in black beech they average about five to eight years apart. In the intervening years there may be very little seed produced which is frequently not viable. Beech gets over this problem by having a stock of young advance-growth seedlings on the forest floor which may sit there for 20 years or more while making minimal growth.

When an opening occurs in the canopy as a result of windthrow or death of a mature tree, these respond to the increased light reaching the forest floor by making rapid growth, often as much as half a metre a year. When these grow to be saplings of between two and three metres in height there may be more than 100,000 of them for every hectare. These compete strongly with each other and suppress most understorey plants.

We look forward to seeing young tree seedlings receive a growth spurt from the increased sunlight and a new generation of Beech trees grow to fill these empty spaces.

Black Beech Management, John Wardle
New Zealand Tree Grower November 2005.

Wikipedia – Cyclone Gita