It’s All In The Fronds

A rowdy storm, common during summer in southwest Florida, passed through with wind gusts and a quick whomp of heavy rain. Then blue sky and bright sunshine returned, my signal to return to poolside and let my mind take me wherever it wished.

As I sat there, my vision locked onto some nearby palm trees still wet and moving about in the storm’s brief after-breezes. That triggered some thoughts about palm trees.

Consider the pictures you’ve seen of hurricane damage in the tropics. There are fascinating reasons why so many palm trees are still standing in the midst of an otherwise flattened landscape.

Walk up to a palm tree for a close look and you’ll begin to appreciate the pure logic that nature used in its design. For openers, the bark is (almost) as smooth as a baby’s behind.  Wind doesn’t have any more of a chance of getting hung up on a palm tree trunk than it does on the polished hood of a Porsche 911 headed for the checkered flag.

Now look up at the gracefully hanging fronds swaying gently in the breeze, providing welcome shade for pale-skinned tourists, perspiring gardeners, and lizards hoping to catch a fly for lunch. Or what about nighttime when, to the delight of lovers, they flirt with moonlight to create interesting shadows on the sand.

Sidestep the poetic and you’ll discover yet another example of nature’s near-perfect engineering. If hit by strong winds, the fronds ingeniously preserve both themselves and the tree by pivoting and turning away from the wind so their narrow and spiky leaves are horizontal with the wind and the ground. That way, there’s little to slow the wind as it speeds down the full length of the frond’s leaves to be harmlessly hurled into space.

If there’s a deluge of rain, the water doesn’t hang around long enough to add extra weight to the tree. Instead, and like the air, it flows along the surface of each long and narrow leaf before being literally atomized off the leaf tips.

While all that is going on, the trunk of the tree continues to stand straight with surprisingly little movement. That’s because its topside seldom offers enough resistance to cause the trunk to bend. Also notice how thick a palm tree’s trunk is relative to its small number of fronds.

Cut into that trunk and instead of solid wood, you’ll see a mass of hundreds of long and extremely strong fibers. How strong? Well, line up only six or eight of them, grab the ends with each fist, and pull hard. That they are so difficult to break is why the trunks of downed palm trees are usually still intact and unbroken.

A downed tree doesn’t mean a dead tree. Just stand it up again, firm the soil around the bottom, and attach four supporting guy-wires.  After a few months, the tree will have grown plenty of new roots to stand on its own. Eventually, it’ll be strong enough to put up a good fight against a hurricane, even if the storm is named Godzilla.

After that botanical analysis, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began thinking about how we can become more like a palm tree. The pieces quickly fell into place.

We create a tough inner core by strengthening muscle and telling fat to go bye-bye.  When a storm begins blowing through our lives, we turn sideways and stand firm so that whatever hits us slides away faster and easier. If we do get blown down, we ask friends to help us get back on our feet and steadied until we’re able to stand tall again.

That’s important to remember the next time you’re hit so hard by the unexpected, unfair, or unreasonable that it threatens to damage or uproot you.

Sure, it’s a human-generated hurricane, a strong one, one of many in life, but like a palm tree, you survive to see many more days of sunshine.