Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - October 05, 2008

From: Sedona, AZ
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Lightning protection of smooth bark cypress
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have been told that the smooth bark cypress stores a large amount of water at its base and if lightning strikes, it will explode and extinguish the flames. Could you tell me if this is a myth? I've also been told that the berries will emit a toxic smoke if the tree catches fire. Is this true?

ANSWER:

Cupressus glabra, smooth bark cypress is not listed as such in our Native Plant Database. It is, however, a synonymn for Cupressus arizonica ssp. arizonica (Arizona cypress), - which is also called smooth bark cypress. In the information we could find about this tree there was no mention of exploding tree bases to extinguish fires from lightning, nor of toxic smoke from berries. Actually, the Cupressus does not have berries, but cones. The base of a tree is part of the anchoring system of the tree, and also part of the transportation system, carrying minerals and water from the soil to the rest of the tree, and returning the food manufactured by the leaves for the continued nutrition of the tree. There really is no place there for storage of water, although, of course, water is stored in the roots. Perhaps some of this slighty skewed information may have come from the fact that the seed-bearing cones often remain on the tree for many years, and the seeds may be finally released by fire. 

In fact, in Yellowstone in the terrible fires of 1988, a species of pine, Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine), helped to reforest the hillsides because of the fire dependency of the seeds in the cones.  This variety is adapted to forest fires, often with cones that remain tightly closed on the trees many years until a fire destroys the forest. When the heat causes the cones to open, the seeds fall to the bare ground to begin a new forest. This variety is also able to reproduce without fire, and in some areas most of the trees release their seeds without the heat of fire. Pinus and Cupressus genuses are related insofar as both belong to the Order Pinales, and both are cone-bearing. 

So, sorry, we couldn't substantiate this story. Possibly when lightning hits a cone-bearing tree, the heat generated by the electricity could cause some of those cones to explode or flare up suddenly, and perhaps that's where the story came from.

Pictures of Cupressus arizonica (Arizona cypress) and its cones.

Pictures of Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine) and its cones.

 

 

More Trees Questions

Drought tolerant Plants and moving Wax myrtles in Austin
April 30, 2011 - Mr. Smarty Plants, What are the most fire resistant and drought tolerant plants for caliche soil in Austin area? I am considering relocating or removing my wax myrtle shrubs because they are ...
view the full question and answer

Is the palm tree a true tree?
December 18, 2008 - Hello, There has been constant debate here about the Palm Tree. I'm in Las Vegas and I have heard everything from it not being a true tree but a cacti or a giant thistle?! I've tried to research...
view the full question and answer

Large oak with possible Laetiporus fungus
November 29, 2011 - We have a huge oak tree in front of our new house. After the first rain this fall a large fungal growth appeared in an old knothole of the tree and I would guess that it is Laetiporus. A neighborho...
view the full question and answer

What are the pines growing at South Padre Island, Texas
November 20, 2011 - Hi, On a recent trip to South Padre Island, we noticed a large number of beautiful long leaf pines. I asked several residents what the name was but no one knew. I have searched and googled trying...
view the full question and answer

Young oak damaged by falling tree from San Diego TX
June 27, 2012 - My neighbor's Palo Blanco tree was struck by lightning and fell over our fence and on to a young oak tree in our yard. We waited a few days to see if the neighbor would offer help, but he never did,...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.