En EspaŅol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Friday - May 30, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Insect attack on bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Something is attacking the bur oak that was planted in 2007. Insects are not on the leaves, but the edges of some leaves look chewed back. Others look brown around the edges. Do you have any idea what we are dealing with here, so that we may treat the tree? Thanks.


According to an article from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service by E. F. Gilman and D. G. Watson, Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) is pest resistant. They say: "Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests" and "No pests are normally serious." They do list various insects that sometimes attack the bur oak. Of the ones they list in the article, the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), the oak leafmining sawfly (Profenusa lucifex) and oak kermes, or scale insect, (Nanokermes pubescens) sound as if they are the most likely suspects. According to the article, gypsy moths feed mainly at night and find a place to hide out of the sun during the daytime. If you have a small infestation, this may be why you haven't seen any caterpillars. The gypsy moth article offers advice about control of these insects.

The only photos of the damage caused by the oak leafmining sawfly (Profenusa lucifex) is in French from PHYTO Ressources from Canada. A loose translation of the article is that Profenusa lucifex "is a small fly, whose yellowish-white larva burrows mines between the leaf veins, producing a brown stain on the top surface of the leaves from mid-June till the end of July. Normally, there is a single generation per year. Sometimes there is a second generation that is active in the autumn, but the mines are less numerous. There is no description of the life cycle. It attacks all oak species (Quercus spp.). No control methods, either cultural or chemical are known." There are photos showing the damage on Quercus coccinea (scarlet oak).

Nanokermes pubescens (syn.=Kermes pubescens) is a tiny, nondescript insect that can easily be overlooked. The article, "Scale Insects on Shade Trees and Shrubs" from Purdue University gives more information, photos and control methods.

In an article from the US Forest Service several other pests are named, but none that are named seem to match the damage you see on your tree. The pests are:

Variable oakleaf caterpillar (Heterocampa manteo)

Redhumped Oakworm (Symmerista albifrons)

Phyllophaga spp. attack roots

Oak lace bug (Corythucha arcuata)

Apparently, the bur oak is the only host plant for the oak skeletonizer (Bucculatrix recognita), but there are no photos available on the web of the insect or the damage it does.

If you think your bur oak is in imminent danger, my advice is to contact a certified arborist who can look at it to determine what is causing the problem and offer a solution.


More Trees Questions

Clear pungent, liquid oozing from oak tree
June 28, 2010 - I have a large oak that over the last few days has been oozing a pungent, non sticky, clear substance from one specific site (no damage) about the size of a dime. It's attracting quite a few gnats, m...
view the full question and answer

Flowering Dogwood for NY
February 21, 2011 - Hello - can you advise me on a disease-resistant/hardy dogwood? Every nursery I've visited has discouraged me from planting dogwoods. What would you recommend? I live in Westchester County, NY
view the full question and answer

Plants for oak shade from Whitney TX
December 24, 2012 - I live in Whitney, Texas and have a number of beautiful Live Oak trees in a portion of my yard providing deep shade. Asian Jasmine grows in about 5 ft circle around them and then nothing! I have walk ...
view the full question and answer

Wind damage to pecan tree in Royse City, TX
June 14, 2009 - The wind broke my pecan tree trunk in two. It is approximately 2 in caliper and about 15 feet tall. Is there a tree trunk repair?
view the full question and answer

Native plants for sandy soil and not much water
April 14, 2008 - I am planning a new garden at home and would like to grow native plants that can handle sandy soil and don't need much water. I do not water my gardens.I would prefer plants that can have more than o...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center