Spruce Trees as Lightning Rods?

David Hershey dh321z at yahoo.com
Tue Dec 3 21:16:09 EST 2002

I've never heard of Norway spruce (Picea abies) being
sold as lightning rods but they could have been. I
remember a 1970s plant catalog that advertised Rosa
multiflora as "the hedge that could stop a truck" so
unusual claims have been made to sell plants. Harris
(1983) has spruce on a top ten list of trees most
likely to be struck by lightning that he obtained from
Cripe (1978). Harris also cites Cripe as saying a tree
next to a building is more likely to be struck. So
there is some circumstantial evidence to support the
concept although it has a major weakness because it
would take several years for a young tree to become
tall enough to be an effective lightning rod.

Bailey (1925) noted that Norway spruce was widely
planted in the northern and eastern states because of
its ornamental attributes and rapid growth. The "Flora
of North America" says Norway spruce is the most
widely cultivated spruce in the USA as do other
references so that alone could explain its abundance.
It is also important for windbreaks, Christmas trees
and forestry. It is considered the most important
commercial forest conifer in Europe. The detailed USDA
Forest Service webpage on Norway spruce doesn't
mention lightning.


Bailey, L.H. 1925. Standard Cyclopedia of
Horticulture. New York: Macmillan.

Cripe, R.E. 1978. Lightning protection for trees.
American Nurseryman 148(9):58-60.

Harris, R.W. 1983. Arboriculture: Care of Trees,
Shrubs, and Vines in the Landscape. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Flora of North America on Picea abies:

USDA Forest Service on Picea abies:

kramer.8 at osu.edu ("David W. Kramer") wrote in message
news:<argjh4$aqf$1 at mercury.hgmp.mrc.ac.uk>...
> Somewhere years ago I was told that early in the
20th Century (1920's?
> 30's?) traveling salesmen went through the midwest
(perhaps elsewhere, too)
> selling young Norway Spruce trees to farmers to
plant near their houses and
> barns.  In those days many houses and barns were
lost to fires sparked by
> lightning strikes and the salesmen claimed that the
spruce trees would take
> the lightning strikes instead of the buildings. 
Indeed as you travel
> through this part of the country, even today, most
of the old farms have
> Norway Spruce trees near the house and barns.
> Does anyone know more about this?  What were the
exact dates?  Who were the
> purveyors?  Where is it documented?  I've thought
about looking for printed
> ads in publications like The Ohio Farmer but I just
haven't gotten around
> to doing that.  Maybe after I retire.  I hesitate to
ask the question
> because in doing so I might just be spreading a
legend.  But I never cease
> to be amazed at the expertise of the PlantEd
> By the way, there also were salesmen selling metal
lightning rods... and
> making lots of money.
> *********************
> David W. Kramer, Ph.D.
> Asst. Prof. of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal
> Ohio State University at Mansfield
> 1680 University Drive
> Mansfield, OH  44906-1547
> Phone:  (419) 755-4344      FAX:  (419) 755-4367
> e-mail:  kramer.8 at osu.edu
> http://www.mansfield.ohio-state.edu/~dkramer/

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