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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Tree Zapped by Zapping? Prognosis 'Not Great' (for the Week of June 8, 2008)

June 8, 2008

Q. Dear Twig: A tree in our yard got hit by lightning. The trunk has a big long scar. Will it live?

A. "The prognosis for this tree is not great, though it really depends upon the amount of damage to the tree's vascular system."

So says a tree guy who works where I work, at Ohio State University. His name is Jim Chatfield. He knows a lot about trees and what bugs them. Including bugs. Lightning. Lightning bugs? Eh, not so much.

"Each lightning strike is different, as is the physiological condition of the tree before the strike," Jim explains. "But the damage is often catastrophic for the tree over time."

The poor tree! And poor you, too, if you like that tree.

Is the tree near a house, a road, a sidewalk or a play area? Jim says call a tree service. Ask for a hazardous tree evaluation. Best to find out if a zapped tree's a risk.



P.S. The parts of a tree's vascular system: the phloem, the xylem, the vascular cambium.


Jim Chatfield is a horticulture specialist with the Ohio State University Extension Center at Wooster.

Phloem ("flome") brings food down from the leaves, food made by photosynthesis.

Xylem ("ZI-lem") brings water and minerals up from the soil.

Vascular cambium makes new phloem and xylem.

A prognosis ("prahg-NO-sis"), in this case, means a forecast or prediction.

A tree's physiological ("fiz-ee-uh-LAHJ-ih-kul") condition has to do with how well the tree is functioning. Is it normal? Is it healthy?

And "catastrophic" ("cat-uh-STRAHF-ik") here means leading to death.

Read more about trees and lightning in "Trees and Lightning,"

About This:

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly feature for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at, to and for a 4th-grade reading level.

For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776.

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Kurt Knebusch