Life in our area of SW Florida changed dramatically on Sept. 28, 2022, when hurricane Ian passed though (slowly). It came from the Gulf into Charlotte Harbor and moved to the interior. It was listed as a category four but winds were even higher. Fortunately for our Englewood area the eye of the hurricane was to the south so winds were counterclockwise, leading to offshore winds rather than onshore flooding tides. This resulted in the “big suck” whereby bay tidal waters moved offshore rather than flooding. But the winds exceeded anything we have encountered since before 1994 and caused extensive damage to vegetation and weakly built houses.
We spent weeks with a lot of help cutting branches and trees and dragging them to the street. You can see a photo of part of the debris pile in front of our lots at the street awaiting pickup from the big black FEMA trucks. The massive amount of biomass removed is shocking and must contribute a considerable amount of carbon to the atmosphere eventually. It must also remove a lot of nutrients from the habitat which is likely a good thing considering the heavy pollution of the bay.
Many trees, especially in moist ground, were toppled, such as this eucalyptus and some were simply severely broken, such as this live oak whose entire top was broken off. A surprise is that some coastal plants such as sea grape with heavy stems were often broken, and then quickly started blooming and fruiting 5-6 months before their normal time in the Spring.
A 25+ year old osprey nest was blown from a tall Norfolk Island pine over our house and eagles came to look at the potential nest site. We cut the tree down since it threatened the house and the ospreys started a new nest 70 feet away in another Norfolk Island pine.
In such severe and long-lasting winds (>10 hours) where did the animals hide or were they destroyed or did they leave the area in anticipation of the storm? Soon after the storm there were few birds seen but after several weeks when we put up bird drip baths a prairie and yellow throated warbler came to drink.
Butterflies could of course weather the storm as larval forms and monarchs and a queen butterfly were soon visiting flowers. Indeed some plants put out what seemed like an excessive amount of flowers. Heavily damaged trunks and branches also soon sprouted with numerous adventitious leaf and twig buds.
Reptiles probably were somewhat protected from the storm by hiding under dense vegetation or in holes. This box turtle is likely more than 50 years old and has probably weathered several such storms. Some unwelcome visitors that arrived after the storm were 3 ctenosaurs or black iguanas introduced from Mexico. They are considered a very undesirable exotic species but I have enjoyed watching them. I consider them far less damaging than free ranging domestic cats.
In our 28 years in this house we have never seen a bobcat yet one showed up on our back porch recently. This young female slept on our porch recliner and then made a sweep of our yard for food. She found at least one baby and one adult rabbit for a nice meal and moved on.
Storms, some severe, are a natural part of the coastal ecology in this region. We as humans can complain about the damage but it is to be expected when structures are built that will not withstand winds and waves that are certain to come. Both plants and animals must cope with such conditions. As a gardener I have now learned that tall trees in this area are not a good idea nor are top heavy species such as red cedar which almost all blew over. So I return to planning/revising our yard with a newly educated sense of what is possible in this environment.