TREES sometimes explode after being hit by lightning. The strong electric current heats up and boils the water inside the tree turning it into steam. The pressure of the steam can make the trunk burst. But it’s not only heat that makes trees burst. There are instances that trees also explode due to extreme cold.

Last Tuesday, I read a news item about exploding trees in Texas. It’s the first time that I heard about this phenomenon. The winter storm was so cold that it caused trees across north Texas to “explode,” filling local communities with booms, snaps, and pops that sounded like gunshots. The explosion has something to do with the tree’s water content too.

As temperatures fall, tree sap begins to freeze and expand within the trees’ branches, generating huge pressure on the internal structure. With nowhere to go and pressures reaching breaking point, the branches of the tree -- and sometimes, the entire tree itself -- will explode, sending fragments flying and huge branches falling to the ground. Native Americans were aware of this phenomenon. The first new moon of the New Year is known as the "Moon of the Cold-Exploding Trees.”

Trees are adapted to winter conditions. It’s the sudden shift in weather that they could not take. According to the National Forest Foundation, trees begin to prepare for an oncoming winter in late summer as daylight hours decline, entering a dormant state and reaching their adapted tolerance by mid-winter. Through a combination of cellular changes that involve shrinkage, dehydration, and sugar concentration, the cells harden and become glasslike. This helps prevent freezing and damage to living cells. However during spells of extreme cold or when trees haven’t had time to acclimate, the sap inside a tree can begin to freeze and thus cause an explosion.

I imagine that if there will be snow in the Philippines, there will be massive tree explosions. Coconuts will burst like hand grenades as their juice freezes and expands. Banana plants will likewise be turned into dynamites, as their watery soft stem freezes and expands.

There is one tree however, by nature’s design, has an exploding fruit. It’s called the Sandbox tree, considered as one of the most dangerous trees in the world. The Sandbox tree grows around 30 meters tall and 1 meter wide. Its bark has deep brown spikes from base to crown (the balacat tree also has spikes).

The spike-laden bark of the Sandbox tree is dangerous, so is the fruit. Upon ripening, the fruit of the Sandbox tree will explode like a botanical hand-grenade carrying seeds up to 40m at 240kph, easily injuring any animal or shattering windows nearby.

Nature sometimes has a strange way of dispersing seeds.