top of page

The Lightning Tree

What Happened Here?

A Force of Nature

It's a proven fact - standing under a tree is one of the most dangerous places to be in a storm. And for a good reason - trees protrude from the earth's surface, making them frequent victims of direct lightning strikes. Some trees escape completely unharmed by a direct hit, some will sustain moderate damage and others will suffer complete devastation. 

Since electricity seeks the path of least resistance, a tree provides a preferred path for lightning to reach the ground. In most trees, the area just under the bark layer contains moisture in the form of sap and water. Since water is a better electrical conductor than wood, lightning striking a tree tends to travel just underneath the bark in this moisture rich layer. 

Along the path of the strike, sap boils, steam is generated and cells explode in the wood. This of course leads to strips of wood and bark peeling or being blown off the tree. If only one side of the tree shows evidence of a lightning strike, the chanc- es of the tree surviving and eventually closing the wound are good. But when the strike passes completely through the trunk and explodes the wood, the tree cannot survive. 

Such was the case one August evening for a roughly 110 year-old white pine alongside 

the orange trail. The lightning strike launched the top of the tree into the air, sending large branches flying, annihilating the mid-section of the tree. Twisted shards of the destroyed por- tion of the tree blanketed the ground surrounding the base of the remaining stripped trunk. Changed in an instant.

We considered the tree to be the one of the largest on site. It was frequently a stop for the Roscommon Elemen- tary students on their return to school. It would take three students, joining hands, to reach around its base, craning their necks upward and commenting how they could not see the top. It was magnificent. It is now a monument to the awesome powers of nature and will be- come the new home to a variety of the preserve's critters. It's remnants a teaching tool for forest succession.

bottom of page