Most people, and utility companies especially, prefer not see the boughs break. That said, wind plays an important role in trees becoming more resilient—you guessed it—wind!
Or maybe you didn’t guess that because it sounds weird…that’s okay! Let’s work through it:
On a day with no wind, a tree stands in a neutral position. When the wind blows, the tree is pushed out of its neutral position causing leaves to flutter, branches to bend, and trunks to sway.
So the wind pushes on the tree, and the tree resists that force and pushes back on the wind (think grade school science…equal and opposite reactions). The tree pushing back is its ‘preference’ to return to neutral.
A tree will only return to neutral when the wind stops, but until then, all of that fluttering, bending, and swaying serves a purpose. Rarely do all parts of a tree move in exactly the same direction at exactly the same time. Leaves, twigs, and branches all move independently, and somewhat erratically in response to wind. Even tree roots move in the wind! All of that wind-induced movement above ground pushes and pulls on the root system supporting the tree.
Movements of trees in wind events are how they resist, reduce, absorb, and dissipate the kinetic energy imparted by the wind. To put it more plainly, tree movement reduces the overall force of wind on the tree, thus increasing the odds that the tree will not be damaged the wind.
There are plenty of cases when wind forces exceed the strength of wood fibers and trees break. But whether trees break or not, a tree can recognize which parts of itself are weaker than others. During the growing season trees can add new cells to weak spots above or below ground to strengthen itself.
Think about someone on a weight training regimen. Generally speaking, the stress of weightlifting creates micro-tears in muscle fibers. The body heals those tears by adding more cells to those stressed muscles, and those muscles grow bigger and stronger as a result.
A person that does weight training consistently will probably be relatively stronger than a person who doesn’t. Similarly, a tree that experiences moderate wind stress on a regular basis will be comparatively more wind firm than a tree with less wind exposure.
This is a primary reason why attitudes about staking newly-planted trees have changed. The trunk of a tightly staked tree cannot move in the wind, and therefore tightly staked trees are less likely to develop strong trunks and root systems.
During stormy times of year, people may be understandably nervous about trees in the wind. Just remember that a little wind is good, and sometimes, wonderfully relaxing.