Silly question?

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jamesrobertsmith
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Silly question?

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:47 pm

If my mother-in-law sees even the smallest poplar sapling showing up on her acreage, she will chop it down. I asked her why she did this and her answer was:

"Poplar trees attract lightning!"

On the surface of it, that seems like a totally ridiculous statement. But I have heard lots of rural people make the same claim over the years. For what reason do many people think that Tulip trees attract lightning? In my experience, I don't see poplars struck any more often than any other type of tree.

Is it because they rupture more violently when struck? Is it because they tend to be among the tallest trees around and subsequently get struck more often?

Why the hell do so many country folk think that poplar trees attract lightning?

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edfrank
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Re: Silly question?

Post by edfrank » Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:07 pm

Inbreeding and moonshine? You know the roots of southern culture.
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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Chris
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Re: Silly question?

Post by Chris » Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:39 pm

I would go with they are often the tallest tree. That at least makes some logical sense.

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Will Blozan
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Re: Silly question?

Post by Will Blozan » Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:06 pm

JRS,

Silly indeed. I think grounding surface area (root mat) is likely more important to produce a strike than height. And yes, this could be associated with the dominant tree on the property. This could be a tulip-tree as they take no back seat to anyone. But I know nothing about tree root systems relative to species. Still, a properly installed lightening protection system could resolve the issue and prevent needless tree death and anxiety.

Dendrophobia is a disease of humans that kills trees. Weird. You should write a book about it!

Will

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jamesrobertsmith
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Re: Silly question?

Post by jamesrobertsmith » Sun Jul 15, 2012 11:39 pm

The thing is, she certainly was not the first person I've heard to make that statement. When I lived in the mountains of north Georgia (in Gilmer County), the locals there would often make the same claim about poplar trees.

As Ed Frank says, maybe it has to do with ignorance and in-breeding. Gilmer County was the place on which James Dickey based his novel DELIVERANCE. Having lived there, I can tell you he had those folk spot on.

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edfrank
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Re: Silly question?

Post by edfrank » Mon Jul 16, 2012 6:33 am

James Robert,

There are many folk stories about things like lightning striking poplar trees. I had not heard that one before. For some there is a hidden truth concerning the stories, others are just tall tales passed on from one generation to the next. I can't really say about this one. I just don't know. It would be an interesting ethnographic study to compile these stories about trees and the forest and try to find their origins. If you hear any more information or come across it in your readings, please post it here.

Ed
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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Will Blozan
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Re: Silly question?

Post by Will Blozan » Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:04 pm

NTS,

A perhaps more "credible" explanation is that tuliptrees often exploded when struck, whereas other species do not as regularly (based on my 26 years in Arboriculture). The "squeaky wheel gets the grease" so they say so tuliptree may offer a biased sample of strikes to bear physical witness.

Will

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Don
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Re: Silly question?

Post by Don » Wed Jul 18, 2012 6:30 pm

Adding to the guess-athon, I'd suggest that the first order of lightning downstrike strikes is in response to the greatest electrical charge disparity. Charge disparity would be affected by the tree's ability to transfer electrical impulse (oddly enough, FROM the ground TO the cloud), which I'd guess would be a function of the tree species moisture content.
Why yellow poplars? While lightning doesn't always strike the tallest (aren't we tree hunters glad!), they do usually pick the upper canopy. Why do yellow poplars characteristically explode? Two thoughts, one that the same moisture relations that enhance electrical transmission, might at the high level of electrical charge in lightning encounter enough resistance to do the heat/steam/explosion thing. Two, falls in the field of forest science and the physical characteristics of wood such as tensile, compression, and shearing strengths...each tree species varies in all three continuums...perhaps yellow poplar is a weaker wood relative to others struck by lightning, either in the tensile or shearing features??
-Don
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