Assessing a Lightning-Damaged Tree: What Happens to a Tree After It Is Struck by Lightning?


A single lightning strike is 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun, according to the National Weather Service. This makes for a spectacular show during a storm. However, while you can retreat to the relative safety of your home during a storm, your trees have no such luxury. Tall trees are especially at risk of being struck, though even a short tree can become a victim of a lightning strike, should it be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Why Does Lightning Strike Trees?

Trees, especially the taller species such as poplars, gums and oaks, provide lightning with a convenient route to the ground. This is simply because tree sap is a much better conductor of electricity than air.

Though one lightning strike may contain as many as 100 million volts, not all trees will exhibit external damage after being struck. However, if you are sure that your tree was struck by lightning, yet it appears to be unharmed, do not assume that it has escaped unscathed.

What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Tree?

As a lightning bolt courses through a tree on its journey to the ground, the sap within the trunk boils and the natural gases contained in the wood expand. This may result in the following damage:

  • Minor – Trees soaked in rain may only suffer minor damage, as the lightning travels over the outside of the tree.
  • Moderate – Moderate damages appears as a deep scar running the length of the tree on one side, with a strip of wood and bark missing.
  • Major – Trees with existing damage within the trunk may contain more moisture, and as such, a lightning bolt can pass directly through their centre, leading to devastating damage.

Unseen damage may also occur internally and within a tree's root system. This kind of damage can kill a tree within days of it being struck.

What Can You Do to Help Your Tree?

The most you can do at first is to care for your tree. Provide it with water and fertilizer to stimulate the healing process. Then you need to wait to see if your tree will survive. Some trees that are struck by lightning die within a few days. Some make a complete recovery. However, you should at least wait until the following spring before pruning the tree, as if the tree doesn't make it, you will have wasted time and effort for nothing. If your tree leafs out next spring, there is a good chance it will recover.

Wait a few days and see. If the tree's leaves wilt and die, the signs are not good. At this point, you should call on the services of an arborist to assess your tree's chances of survival. An experienced arborist may be able to tell you whether your tree will make it or not, and they can assist with the tree removal process if the tree isn't going to survive. Though losing a tree is never easy, at least you'll be able to move on without going through a painful waiting process.


30 May 2017

Saving Unhealthy Trees: Tricks, Strategies, Tips and More

Seeing a tree die can be sad, especially if it's the only shade tree in your yard, a tree you grew up climbing or a once bountiful fruit tree. However, surprisingly, many trees that people seem to give up on can actually be saved. I hate the idea of anyone losing a tree, so I decided to start a blog. This blog is going to have tips I have learned as a lifelong gardener as well as things I have learned while researching trees and botany in general. I hope you like these posts and that they eventually help you save a few trees!