Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Smoking Cypress

Yesterday's thunderstorm caused a Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) to be struck by lightning. The images show that the crown of the tree caught fire. Like most older trees here at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest, this tree was mostly hollow, especially the top half. Therefore, it didn't take long to burn through the thin trunk and send a large portion of the crown smoking to the ground north (right) of the buttress.

The interior of the tree continued to smolder through the night and at some point today it ignited. A visitor coming off the boardwalk asked, "Would you be interested in knowing that a tree in the swamp is smoking?" Why yes...we would be interested.

As we approached the swamp, we could smell burning wood. As we approached #4 along the boardwalk, ash began falling like a mid-summer snowstorm. After #5, the giant, smoking cypress was obvious and the sounds of embers could be heard cascading down the backside of the trunk. Moving around the back of the giant a baseball-size hole could be seen adjacent to a limb that had sprouted halfway up the tree. As we took images to document this seldom-seen event, embers continued to fall from the hole as it slowly enlarged to a watermelon-sized, oxygen-drawing vent. The red embers in the interior of the newly-created chimney can be seen in one of the images.

In the swamp, there are numerous lightning-struck cypress trees standing as charred reminders of nature's power. However, one normally is not afforded the opportunity to see the burn occur. As this is being written, a typical summer-afternoon thunderstorm is moving through the area dropping its cargo of water. It is unlikely that the rain will completely douse the hot interior of our burning cypress, but it will prevent the fire from spreading to the surrounding habitat or threatening the boardwalk and nature center.

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