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Zombie trees are terrorizing Wisconsin neighborhoods. Here's how to identify them

A tree with large, swooping branches.
Adobe Stock
A tree with large, swooping branches.

Spooky season may be over, but there could be a hidden horror still lingering in your neighborhood. As the seasons change and the weather becomes more unpredictable, storms and heavy winds could be creating a phenomenon known as “zombie trees.” These are trees that have been damaged in a way that can be difficult to see, and have developed other issues as a result.

"There could be a crack from a high wind... and it's just sitting there in purgatory until it does something: it grows or it falls down. You could have drought where on the inside of the tree it kind of dries up, and that's where you can have some decay happening," says Adam Passo, a certified arborist and district manager for Davey Tree Expert Company in Milwaukee.

Passo says the danger of zombie trees is their relative invisibility, which can mean a tree goes untreated until it's too late. Limbs and even full trees can fall and cause major damage to homes, vehicles, and any living thing in or under the tree.

There are some signs of damage people can find on trees and if they catch the issue quickly, it can minimize the damage.

"The first sign is canopy decline, you know, the leaves were a really nice size last year, this year they're a little bit smaller; you can start seeing a little bit more light through the canopy," says Passo. "You'll notice maybe a little light color on the bark. You know, it's a really dark bark and then you see this line of light color. That's a dead giveaway that maybe there's a nasty crack that we can't see all the way through."

Some signs can be more serious than others and Passo says they should be addressed quickly.

He explains, "If you see some root heaving, there could be ground coming up a little bit on one side... that's a big sign the roots were severed."

Passo says that every situation is unique and often trees can be saved, as long as the issue is discovered in time.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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