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?

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
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
2 ratings

Wednesday - May 12, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Red-backed bugs on mountain laurel (Sophoro secundiflora)
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I found red-backed bugs (in fact two end-to-end like the east Texas love bugs) on my mountain laurel which has been losing leaves. Are these bugs the culprit?

ANSWER:

Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel), according to the US Forest Service "...are primarily pest-free, except for infestations by caterpillars of a moth in the family Pyralidae."  The moth is Uresiphita reversalis (Pyralid moth or Genista broom moth).  You would see the caterpillar and its damage from chewing on the leaves if they were infesting the plant.  Obviously the bugs aren't the caterpillars and since there don't seem to be any other serious insect pests I don't think the bugs are the culprit.  The Forest Service site does mention that the mountain laurels are especially susceptible to phenoxy herbicides.  One of the commonest of these phenoxy herbicides is 2,4-D.  These particular herbicides are used against broadleaf weeds on grass lawns, pastures or in grain fields.  The problem is that they are very volatile and can drift for miles with the wind and effect plants far from their application. They have been especially detrimental to grapevines.  If you or your neighbors have been using any of these on your lawns, it is possible that some has landed on your mountain laurel and is causing the problem. 

Another possibility is that you have had some environmental change where the plant is growing.  Mountain laurels like well-drained soil to grow in.  They don't like having 'wet feet'.  Has the drainage in its vicinity changed?  Is there the possibility that the soil has become compacted by a lot of traffic—foot or vehicle?  If you think that this has happened, you need to remedy this by stopping the traffic and adding a hardwood mulch over the soil surrounding the tree.  It will help protect the roots and eventually work its way into the soil and relieve the compaction. Better yet, you could carefully work some of the mulch into the soil so that when the tree does get water (from rain or supplemental watering) the water gets to the roots and doesn't stand on top of them.  Whatever you do, don't fertilize the tree. In the first place, native plants don't need fertilizing and a plant under stress (as yours seems to be) should never be fertilized.

 

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Black Sooty Mold on Bay Tree
February 25, 2013 - I have a large bay tree and all the leaves are covered with a black mold-like substance on the top part of the leaf. Under each leaf are some black/brown spots. I have washed the leaves with soap and ...
view the full question and answer

Texas Ash secreting sap in Lockhart, TX
July 05, 2012 - I have what I believe is a Texas Ash in my front yard that is secreting a sap with what looks like some wounds on it with some white stuff and with black and red looking ants as well as it has a lot o...
view the full question and answer

Determine oak wilt in red oaks
December 12, 2007 - I am concerned my red oaks have oak wilt. How can I tell what is wrong with them?
view the full question and answer

Leaf problems on oaks in North Liberty IA
June 12, 2010 - My oak trees (young and old) are showing leaf problems. Is there a disease or insect causing oak tree disease?
view the full question and answer

Problems with red oak from Austin
July 31, 2013 - I planted 3 Texas Red Oaks several years ago. The trees are in a tight cluster just a few feet apart. At the end of last summer, one of them began to develop brown spots and yellowed leaves. This summ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center