Can This Tree Be Saved?

September 2, 2008 | By | Comments (2)

Tree
Q: I have a large tulip poplar which was struck by lightning a few years ago. The year it happened, I contacted the county extension service for advice. I was told that trees usually form a callous at the injured spot, but if insects get in the tree, spray. The tree did form calluses on the sides of the wound, but even though I sprayed several times, insects got in, and there is some rotting where the tree is exposed with no bark covering.

I’ve just had a tree service man give me an estimate on removing some dead trees. I pointed out the problem on the poplar, and he recommended using spray paint on the exposed part of the tree trunk. He said that would keep out any more insects and seal up the rotting area.

Have you ever heard of using this technique and would you recommend it? The tree isn’t near any structure. Rita

A: Rita,

Forgive me for saying so, but when I read the advice your tree man gave you, I started laughing — not at your plight, but at the erroneous information. This guy should stick to cutting trees.

Lightning strikes tulip poplars more often than just about any other tree, because they grow very tall, thus rising above the rest of the tree canopy, and because they’re good conductors of electricity. When lightning strikes one, typically one of two things happen — the tree explodes (I saw one instance where tree bark was blown over three adjacent yards) or, more likely, the lightning travels down one side of the tree into the ground. In doing so, it turns water in the sap into steam and kills bark in a streak running up and down the trunk. Soon, the bark peels away, leaving the sapwood and heartwood beneath exposed to insects and fungi. You may also see the tree start dying back from the top.

The tree may die quickly, it may die over a period of several years, or it may recover. Key to recovery is removing the damaged wood and cutting smooth edges around the wounds where the bark peeled off. This encourages the formation of healing callous tissue on either side of the wound, which will eventually seal it.

Painting a wound is useless, however. It does nothing to speed healing nor chase away insects or fungi. It’s like advising a man with gangrene in his foot to spray-paint it. It makes everything look better for a while…….Lucky the tree guy isn’t a doctor. (Of course, malpractice attorneys probably wish he were.)
Your photos show a lot of decay. Even if the tree closes over the wound in a couple of years, what you will wind up with is a big tree that’s hollow at the base. This makes it much more likely to break and fall in a storm. You’re lucky it’s not close to the house. Still, keep an eye on it.
Good luck,
Grumpy

COMMENTS

  1. Marilyn

    We recently experienced the eye-opening event of having a large tree struck by lightening just a few yards from our living room window.
    To that end, what sort of insect spray does one apply in this situation? Should we also apply some sort of spray to deter fungus, as well?
    Please educate us!

    September 8, 2008 at 3:18 pm
  2. Grumpy

    What kind of damage was done to the tree?
    Grumpy

    September 9, 2008 at 7:38 am