En Español

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

Bur oak defoliation
September 05, 2008 - I have a bur oak that was planted in 1993. In 2000, I had mortared stone edging (approx 5 inches deep) installed around the trunk from 4 to 6 feet away. In the last 3 years, the tree seems to be decli...
view the full question and answer

Trees for shade in Austin
May 20, 2012 - I live in Austin and I am looking for a good tree to plant under a large live oak I have in my backyard. Something slow-growing of course and, the garden only gets late day sun for about an hour. Filt...
view the full question and answer

Are Mesquite (Prosopis) pods safe for dogs to eat?
June 15, 2009 - are pods from mesquite trees posionus to dogs if they chew or eat them?
view the full question and answer

Small tree to plant with high bush blueberry plants
May 13, 2008 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have four wonderful new highbush blueberry plants. I like to plant a native tree nearby to accent them, but cannot find a suitable one. I'd like a tree that is not going ...
view the full question and answer

Theory for live oak shoots from Austin
August 25, 2011 - More on preventing suckers from coming up around live oaks in Austin. I too have been puzzled - why some live oaks have shoots, and not others. Posting here says different varieties have suckers. ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center