Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - May 21, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Leaf cutter ants in potted Mexican lime tree
Answered by: Barbara Medford and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Hi, I'd like to add a question to the recent post about leaf-cutter ants. I have a potted mexican lime tree that has been inhabited by an ant colony for several months. They are chewing holes in the leaves, cutting many, many of them completely off, and cutting my buds and tiny limes off as well. This lime is on a second + story deck high up in the air, yet they persist. They have rarely bothered the potted new dawn next to it, nor my tomatoes. My exterminater identfied them as leaf cutters, and put some sort of gel on the plant that he said would dehydrate them...and in fact, they drank it eagerly, and many died. But within a couple of weeks, they were back in numbers. I have used a spinosad product on them myself, and it was roundly ignored by the colony, and an insecticidal soap did not kill even those who were sprayed directly. But here's where it gets less clear to me - they do not resemble leaf cutters, but instead look exactly like fire ants...first two segments are brown/red, last one is black. However, there is no visible mound in the pot, and I have not suceeded in getting them to sting me. I have taken some very clear photos of these ants and the damage they are doing to the tree.. could I send them or bring them to you for help? I'll link them below in case that works. I would have liked to get rid of them organically, but at this point, I am ready to try about anything. If I can kill them, I plan to re-pot the plant with fresh soil. I would appreciate any advice you can give me.

ANSWER:

No one here was able to identify your ant from your description. Perhaps you could send us a picture and we can try to figure out what it is. Go to the Mr. Smarty Plants page and in the lower right-hand corner under "Plant Identification" you will find instructions for sending pictures to us. Of course, insects aren't really our thing, but they do interact with the plants that are our thing. We are concerned that if this is a colony that perhaps was in the pot when you bought it, that a new type of ant has been imported into the area via that pot. It seems like every few weeks we hear about another damaging insect that has managed to sneak in on a shipment of plants or fruit or something. We urge you to contact the County Extension Agent for Travis County, describe the situation and perhaps an agent will come out and look at the ants. If they are another introduced species, they need to be dealt with before they break out and infest your area. The contact information is at the bottom of the webpage.  

 

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Bark damage to Tulip Tree
August 10, 2006 - I have a tulip tree planted. It is about 9-10 years old. Two years ago the tree looked as though the trunk was cracked. Maybe hit by lightning after a storm. This year the bark on the side of tree...
view the full question and answer

Spots on just-emerging Zexmenia in Austin
April 02, 2010 - My zexmenia is just coming up from the ground after a cold winter in Austin. The leaves are all spotted with tiny holes as if something is munching on them before they even leave the ground or just as...
view the full question and answer

Yellowing of Thuja occidentalis leaves in early Fall in Maryland
September 12, 2006 - Mr. Smarty Plants, I am from Maryland. Please help. I have planted 23 Thuja occidentalis Smaragd in my front yard a few months ago. Height of about 3 feet. Most of the trees have turned golden brown....
view the full question and answer

Recovery from transplant shock for bougainvillea
July 12, 2007 - I live outside of Phoenix. I just bought a bougainvillea in a large pot. It was doing nicely until I brought it home. I placed it in a sunny spot in my front yard inside of a large volcanic rock that ...
view the full question and answer

Cause of trees losing bark in Arkansas
December 27, 2011 - I live in very rural Arkansas and we did have extreme heat this past summer and since then I have noticed several trees in the woods that have lost huge strips of their bark and I was wondering if it ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.