En EspaŅol

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
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

Lighting for the Wildflower Center from Austin
December 16, 2012 - Hello Mr Smarty, On a recent night trip to the Center, there was an oak that was beautifully lit for the holidays. It seemed to come from one ground light, but cast hundreds of glistening "stars"...
view the full question and answer

Plant ID from The Woodlands TX
July 22, 2013 - Your plant database does not distinguish 2 native tree species. Common names for these 2 trees: American hophornbeam and ironwood or musclewood. These common names are used for both trees - even m...
view the full question and answer

A Crabapple for the Austin, TX area.
May 06, 2014 - I am in search of crab apples. Don't they grow in Austin? I can not seem to be able to locate any here. Any suggestions?
view the full question and answer

Problems with Texas wild olive tree in Tucson
November 15, 2010 - Planted a Texas Olive tree in Tucson, Az. Some of the leaves are kind of yellow. It gets part sun and part shade and is growing. Is this due to too much water, not enough water or does it need somet...
view the full question and answer

Deciduous tree with tap root
August 04, 2008 - I have a 13 foot space between two town houses and would like to plant a slender deciduous tree up to 30 feet in height with a tendency to tap root so as not to disturb the foundation of the houses. ...
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 | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center