En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Lightning protection of smooth bark cypress

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

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

Eco-friendly trees for parks in Brownsville, TX
April 26, 2008 - Which are the best eco friendly trees for parks?
view the full question and answer

Need to find an alternative to Bradford Pear in the Woodlands, TX
September 18, 2011 - Hello! I am trying to find an alternative tree to a Bradford Pear. I love the seasonal change in these and ordered one, but after the many negative reviews I've read (smell, weakness in branches, mes...
view the full question and answer

Planting annuals around young oak in Evanston IL
July 30, 2011 - is it OK to plant annuals (i.e. salvias, impatiens or dusty millers) around the base of a young oak tree (2-3 years old)?
view the full question and answer

Problem with oak trees in Mansfield, Texas
September 26, 2010 - We have lost 2 large oaks last year & now another is nearly gone. It has several large patches of missing bark - beneath a thin layer of skin-like membrane that seemed to separate it from the bark i...
view the full question and answer

Problems with post oaks in Milam Co., TX
October 26, 2009 - I have an old ranch in Milam County, Texas on the Brazos River with several large, old Post Oaks. Recently a few of these grand old trees have lost large branches and two have died. One has died, poss...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center