The Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory

PPDL Picture of the Week for
May 6, 2013

Lightning Damage

Rosie Lerner, Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist, Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, Purdue University

Question: Lightning struck my Maple tree early this morning. The tree has no visible damage on any of the outside bark, but as you can see from the picture the ground above the root system was blown away in ruts in every direction. Do you have any opinion about the likely survival of this tree? Thanks for any input.

Answer: That is quite the "striking" photo! I wish I could be more specific, but there really is no way to know what the extent of the injury is to the tree. I would expect some of the root system to be affected at the very least, and that could be a gradual process of showing up in the top growth.

I would say there is no need for immediate action, best to take a wait and see approach. If you see dieback in the canopy, those dead/dying limbs can/should be pruned out anytime so they don't become a hazard. If greater than 50% of the canopy ends up dying back, then you might consider removing the tree. You’ll find additional information on lightning damage at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/lightningstrikes.html and www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/hot11/6-2.html.

Click image to enlarge

Damage on ground radiating out from tree

Photo courtesy of Richard Griffin

Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service