AUSTIN (KXAN) — While it may sound a bit hyperbolic, the dead walk amongst us this fall: zombie trees. It sounds silly, but zombie trees are what arborists call trees that are still standing but aren’t alive. This year’s drought and the 2021 winter storm have caused a horde of zombie trees to swarm central Texas.
Zombie trees can be very dangerous. While they may look healthy, arborists said they could fall or break apart easily. A falling branch could damage people, pets and property.
Identifying these trees isn’t easy. Sadly these trees aren’t saying “brains” every other second. A certified arborist may be needed to diagnose the tree.
Kristen Currie, a meteorologist at Nexstar’s KXAN, spoke with Dave Madden from Davey Tree and Shrub Experts about zombie trees. Madden explained what his team looks for to identify the walking dead and what has to be done if he finds one.
You can read the interview, edited for length and clarity, below.
Kristen Currie, KXAN: Let’s first start with what is a zombie tree?
Dave Madden, Davey Tree Expert Company: Zombie tree is basically like any zombie, it’s the walking dead. You can have dead trees that are zombie trees. A zombie tree [could also be] a living tree that’s got problems that we need to address.
Zombie trees are trees that we need to worry about. Because they can cause catastrophic events to happen if large limbs or entire trees fall and land on houses, cars, people.
Currie: Are you able to tell from the outside if a tree is dead inside?
Madden: There are many signs that we look for when we inspect trees and try to determine hazard potential. Of course, we stand back and look at overall leaf canopy. Then we look at the structure of the tree, the limbs, the branches, the root system, of course, you inspect the root system for signs of fungal decay or a hump rising on one side of the tree.
If a tree has a lean to it, and there’s a hump rising, I’ve kind of always related that to like a lava dome and a volcano. If you see that rising, something’s going to happen — better beware. So get it looked at.
Currie: That’s good to know. Is there anything as homeowners who have trees in their yards that we can do to prevent a zombie tree from happening?
Madden: Especially if you have a mature tree, you want to get them checked on a regular basis. Because they can be problematic and they can be dangerous.
Currie: Are you seeing any more zombie trees this year compared to other years or fewer compared to other years?
Madden: No doubt that there’s been a big problem since that freeze. I guess it’ll be two years ago February, then we didn’t get the year we needed as far as rain and recovery this year. And those trees, they were dropping like flies sadly in August and September and still are.