Natural History
Tree that has been scorched by lightning
Photo credit: Erich G. Vallery, USDA Forest Service - SRS-4552,

Florida experiences more lightning strikes than any other part of the United States. Trees, which are often the tallest structures in a forest and are deeply rooted, are prime targets for lightning. Trees are natural lightning rods.

Lightning plays various roles in the forest community. It can strike any tree and as a result, old or unhealthy trees may die. Many healthy trees can survive a lightning strike, although a severe attack can kill any tree. Lightning strikes makes trees more susceptible to insect, wind, and disease damage. Lightning strikes can also ignite wildland fires, a natural occurrence in many Florida ecosystems.


Identifying Characteristics

Identifying the stress: Damage can range from minimal injury to serious destruction. Injury is most often to the trunk but roots, branches, and leaves or needles can be affected too. Minimal damage includes the loss of a few pieces of bark and the loss of needles, leaves, and branches due to the flying bark and debris. The usual injury to conifers is a uniform 2-10 wide furrow along the trunk where only the outermost layers of sapwood are exposed. Severe damage may include complete trees being literally "blown apart" or the trunk severed enough to cause the tree to fall over or major branches fall off.
Susceptible trees: Any tree can be hit by lightning, the tallest trees being the most likely targets.



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