Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beech and Lightning

Saturday afternoon--wind enough to push me around, sun to dark clouds and back to sun, temps in the low seventies. This day was a gift.

A young beech tree just up the road from home. While the swamp maples have already dropped, the beeches are now putting on a good showing.

From The Christian Review and Clerical Magazine:

"The Beech-tree A Non-conductor Of Lightning.—Dr.Beeton, in a letter to Dr. Mitchell of New York, dated 19th July 1824, states, that the beech-tree (that is, the broad-leaved or American variety of Fagus syhatica) is never known to be assailed by atmospheric electricity. So notorious, he says, is this fact, that, in Tenessee, it is considered almost an impossibility to be struck by lightning if protection be sought under the branches of a beech-tree. Whenever the sky puts on a threatening aspect, and the thunder begins to roll, the Indians leave their pursuit, and betake themselves to the shelter of the nearest beech-tree, till the storm pass over; observation having taught these sagacious children of nature, that, while other trees are often shivered to splinters, the electric fluid is not attracted by the beech. Should farther observation establish the fact of the non-conducting quality of the American beech, great advantage may evidently be derived from planting hedge-rows of such trees around the extensive barn-yards in which cattle are kept, and also in disposing groups and single trees in ornamental plantations in the neighbourhood of the dwelling-houses of the owners."

And a few quotes below from an article in Nature: International Journal of Science:

"The statistics show that from 1879 to 1890 lightning had struck 56 oaks, 3 or 4 pines, 20 or 21 firs, but not a single instance of a beech tree was recorded. These facts will be seen to be of importance when it is stated that the relations between the numbers of different' kinds of trees in the region under observation were such that, out of 100 trees, about 70 were beech, 11 oaks, 13 pines, and 6 were firs. The numbers show at a glance that beech trees seemed to have been entirely free from attack, although they were twice as numerous as all the other trees put together. A practical hint can at once be deduced from this; for protection against lightning, when one is in, perhaps, a wood, can be apparently secured, provided of course there are beech trees there!"

"Extending the observations over a far wider range, and employing numerous different kinds of woods containing varying quantities of fatty materials, such as oil and resin, it was discovered that the wood cut from living trees was in every case a worse conductor of electricity the more oil or resin they contained. The fresh wood of trees, on the other hand, which are rich in starch but poor with regard to fatty matter, conducted electricity- very well, although no large difference for the various kinds of wood was noticed."

"According to these facts then, assuming in the case of Germany that it is during the summer months that thunderstorms are most frequent, those trees rich in fatty materials (Fettbaume), and which during the summer contain much of them, are to a great extent protected against lightning. Those, on the other hand, that are poor in oil during the period of thunder-storms, and especially such trees which contain much starch (Starkbaume), arc more liable to be struck."

And this from the web site of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Illinois):

"In a bad thunder storm, people used to run for a beech tree. There is a superstition that lightning will not strike a beech. As a matter of fact, they probably are struck as often as any other tree but without being damaged. Because of the fatty content of the wood, their smooth bark, and their many fine twigs and buds, beech trees are good conductors of electricity. Therefore a bolt of lightning is usually carried down into the ground harmlessly."

The Christian Review and Clerical Magazine, Volume 1. London, 1827. 533. Web. Google Book Search. 31 Oct 2009.

Nature: International Journal of Science. No. 1374. Volume 53. February 27, 1898. The Destruction of Trees by Lightning. 394. Web. Google Book Search. 31 Oct 2009.

"Beech Tree Lightning". Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Illinois). Nature Bulletin No. 66 May 18, 1946. Web. Google Web Search. 31 Oct 2009.


  1. So, do we run for the nearest beech tree in a storm or not? I hope I never need to test out whether it is indeed fact or superstition!
    Those winds yesterday stripped our trees bare except for the beech and oak which despite the tenacity of their leaves, still took a hit and look fairly sparse now.
    This is the time of year that my eyes begin to "readjust", to be able to see and appreciate what I call the quiet colors- lichens are a special favorite, as are the dried grasses and tree barks. Even the sky and water take on colors that one never sees in summer.

  2. In my groundskeeping years, I noticed a lightening strike pattern in a certain area. Always the oaks in a east-west line. Nearby was a beech forest. I didn't notice any strikes there. The oaks would split with bark blown clean off. Do beeches resist strikes or pass them through easily?

    The leaves here are follwing similarly. The big locusts are quite thinned. The sweet pepperbush were bare in a matter of days.

    Quiet colors. I like that. Yesterday's pictures were a mix--remaining slashes of colors and some work with greys and browns. Each has its own value, eh? :-)