Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fresh Lightning Strike

Evidence of storm damage fills the woods. It would surely have been exciting to witness the lightning strike that left its mark on this Tuliptree.

At 50 feet from the tree, the shards of tree bark are easy to find. There were some pieces as far as 125 feet from the tree and they probably would have gone farther had there not been such a clutter of understory branches in the way.

I’ve read that the passage of the lightning through the tree causes the water and sap in the tree to make a rapid transition from liquid to gas. The sudden formation of gas produces pressure that explodes the bark from the tree. The result is a scar that runs from top of tree to the ground.

In the cartoons, a lightning strike always leaves things charred and smoking. Nothing like that is evident on the tree. If I had taken hold of the bark and ripped a section free, it would have made a wound much like this. This wound can heal, but it can also let in a host of insect and disease pests.

The visible damage ends at ground level. This doesn’t mean that there’s no damage below ground. Intense heat often causes cell damage in the shallow roots. This produces additional stress on the tree and depending on the nature of the damage, can leave the tree with a less stable foundation.

In the tree world there are hazards associated with rising above the others. Tuliptrees grow rapidly and produce a tall, straight, moisture laden trunk that is very attractive to lightning. Tuliptrees make up about two-thirds of the obviously lightning struck trees at Blue Jay Barrens.

Leaves are still green and healthy, despite being the apparent hosts to a hoard of leaf eating insects. If the tree was wounded beyond repair, it may take a couple of years before that fact becomes obvious. A healthy forest is not hurt by a few storm damaged trees. The storms just sprinkle the spice of diversity over the woodland landscape and increase the numbers of organisms that can live there.


  1. Yes, that was quite a strike on the tree.

    It's amazing how trees survive so much "abuse." We have trees here that have been scraped by cars being parked (university students aren't always so careful) and the trees heal and go on living. Sometimes the scrapes take out huge amounts of bark and wood beneath.

  2. "Exciting" HAHA..I was in an aluminum canoe on a river when a big storm hit. Big bolts coming down all around us in the woods with their unique air crackeling sizzle followed with the Boom that sent a sonic blast that you would swear, shook your body...yeah..I was excited!...so excited I went scrambling to cower under a rock ledge. The power nature weilds is enormous! I later took similar pictures of a 100ft tree with a 2ft wide by 50ft long section of bark hanging as if peeled with a giant potatoe peeler! Kinda gives you the true perspective of our position in the scheme of things. Nice photos!

  3. Hi, Lois. I've seen many trees that have suffered the abuses you describe. I happy to say that as a student I never once hit a tree.

    Hi, Michael. I’ve had similar exhilarating encounters. The last was when lightning struck the house and caused a cascade of sparks to exit the toaster oven and arc over to the sink. It was quite a while before I was satisfied that we didn’t have fire smoldering inside the walls.