What type of damage has this tree suffered that has made the bark separate? I suspect a lightning strike.

[Trees struck by lightning may exhibit variable symptoms. When lightning hits a tree, water in the cells beneath the bark is heated past the boiling point. The resulting steam causes an explosion that removes a strip of bark. A crack in the bark appears when a continuous groove of bark is stripped along the entire length of the trunk or main branch. A crack that does not run the length of the trunk may indicate a side flash. A side flash occurs when electricity strikes the tree, travels down the trunk, then jumps to an object with less electrical resistance. If lightning strikes a bit deeper, the entire tree may blow apart. The tree may or may not have blackened or charred areas on the trunk.]1

enter image description here enter image description here The blackness here looks like charring to me which - along with the winding lightning style patterns - makes me suspect exactly that. enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

How can I determine exactly what has killed this tree?

  • @Jurp Why don't you make an answer? I was wrong so don't deserve the vote. Johan it is fine to answer your own answer, which you have done. I went out looking for that excerpt you added, that was what I was trying to find about the cambium and water and boom! Thanks for this question. Good one. And thanks for not just believing me...that is so good! – stormy Jun 10 '18 at 21:22
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    My question back is would there have been fire? Or just smoke? – stormy Jun 10 '18 at 21:27
  • @stormy If you YouTube 'lightning struck tree fire' you can get a whole host of amazing videos. Some burn spectacularly. Some just blow to pieces or get scarred. – Johan88 Jun 11 '18 at 1:18
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    Where do you think I got educated? Unbelievable stuff. I learned something new just because of you! Thanks. – stormy Jun 11 '18 at 1:34

Actually this could be sun-scald. This happens to old trees who are at the end of their lives or weakened by physical stresses.

It possibly was brought on by lightening but the damage is so extensive that if lightening was the culprit, the tree would be totally chard.

Sun-scald occurs randomly but generally occurs when the individual has been stressed. Drought, excessive rainfall, fungus attacks, or even acid rain.

Trees communicate via underground connections with their root systems and if one of the trees present a danger to others, communication is severed as well as resources.

Tree communication


I cannot see it clearly but there is obvious damage on the tree’s cambium exposed by the peeling bark. This gives me an indication that the tree suffered from an attack such as honey fungus. The tree seemed to have heeled itself but it would have been quite a strain for it.

The only way to confirm is a professional arborist. Or someone could look if there’s any oozing from the bark.

Ultimately, the tree died of old age, regardless of what triggered the death and regardless of what the other tress are doing, even if planted at the same time.

In my experience, I have raised trees and plants grown by many means and all cared for in the same manner. But not all thrive, some die, some are weaker, some are stunted... and so on. This why this question is sparking such a debate

  • Thanks so much. First time I've ever heard the word arborist. Seems I'll indeed have to call one. I'm living in a subtropical region where freezing is not often or never reached. – Johan88 Jun 22 '18 at 16:06
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    @Johan88 it’s not necessarily about freezing. Environmental stresses are of many and the list is a long one depending where you live. Subtropical will have sudden humidity followed by very heavy rain to no rain at all..... and so on... the point is that a plant or tree must be seriously tough to cope. As a matter of fact, i do not recognise the tree. If you know what it is I might be able to give more details – user33232 Jun 22 '18 at 16:17
  • Sorry, I don't know the tree. I found a nearby sign that read Acacia Confusa that looks like it might have been blown off in a lightning strike, but it was 10ish meters away and could have been from some other tree or even vandals (who seem rife in that particular spot, leaving their drug litter all around, dagnabbit) – Johan88 Jun 22 '18 at 16:39
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    It is indeed an acacia confusa you’ll probably get the same answer from an arborist – user33232 Jun 22 '18 at 17:35

UPDATE: I am now more convinced this was lightning, not old age. All the other trees were more than likely planted at the same time and they are doing fine. Pretty amazing thing I did not know. Thanks Johan.

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    Of course one can't be sure of anything. I've seen lightening damaged trees and they look like they got hit by a hot white bolt, catastrophic, can blast a tree wide open. But this is a total death, not catastrophic. There is no evidence of a hit that I can see in the photos. The entire tree died slowly all at the same time. It is weird looking, not a familiar sight at all. – stormy Jun 3 '18 at 13:40
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    I've had a large elm struck by lightning. Where the lightning ran from the tree top to the ground looked like a simple little scar at first - and then looked like the tree in your picture after six months. When I first saw your photos I said "lightning strike". When the tree is first struck (if it doesn't have something catastrophic happen to it then), you'll see a large branch "flag" - that is, an entire branch will turn color at once. Dutch Elm disease does this as well. I doubt that this is a fungal infection caused by too much soil on the rootflare - that's a different kind of (slow) death – Jurp Jun 3 '18 at 13:42
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    Really? When a tree is struck by lightning it might not be catastrophic? Flagging is also indicative of other diseases, not just Dutch Elm. My first step would be to LOOK at the flare's health. If that weren't the problem I'd go check out more lightning struck trees. Cool, Jurp. – stormy Jun 3 '18 at 13:51
  • @Jurp and do you know of any way to determine if this is or is not a lightning strike? – Johan88 Jun 10 '18 at 1:47
  • Me too! I am waiting to hear someone else's ideas. Main thing of course is that this tree is done and is now a hazard. This isn't in your own yard, right? In a city park? Do you know what this tree is? The more I think about this the more I think I am wrong. Lightening would be able to this...all at once. Maybe. I am learning something new, Johan88. I'd like to see the cross section of the trunk. I've got to look at lightning struck trees more. If you are seeing winding lines of exposed cambium...then I think I am wrongo! – stormy Jun 10 '18 at 1:57

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