Explore Plants

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
    
 

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

Sunday - February 05, 2006

From: New Braunfels, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Differentiating between red oak, Shumard oak and American sycamore
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a few trees growing in an arroyo and I'm pretty certain that they are either red oak, shumard red oak, or Texas sycamore. The trees are deciduous and have a scaled grey bark which becomes lighter and patchy as one looks up the tree. I have read that both red oak and sycamores do this. Is there a way to identify them by looking at the bark?

ANSWER:

There shouldn't be any confusion between American sycamore, (Platanus occidentalis) and the two oaks. Both the oaks generally have deep vertical ridges on them. The sycamore's older bark is thinner and is not ridged as deeply as the oaks. The sycamore's younger bark is without ridges and often has green, tan and white patches. Also, if your trees are mature sycamores, you should see some of the fruits on the ground or still hanging on the tree. Robert Vines in Trees of Central Texas gives this description of the barks of the three trees:

1. Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) bark: 'Reddish brown, scaling off in thin plates to expose the conspicuous white, or greenish, new bark."
2. Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) bark: "Grey to reddish brown, smooth or broken into small tight interlacing ridges.
3. Texas oak (Q. texana) bark: "Dark grey to black with thick short ridges and platelike scales, fissures deep."

You are likely to have a bigger problem distinguishing between the Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) and the Texas oak (Q. texana, synonym=Q. buckleyi)—also known as Red oak, Spanish oak, or Nuttall oak—by the bark alone; or, for that matter, even after they leaf out and produce acorns. Indeed, Robert Vines (Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southwest. 1960. Austin: University of Texas Press) says that "The close relationship of Texas Oak and Shumard Oak has been a botanical classification problem. Some botanists prefer to classify the two as separate species, but others prefer to reduce Texas Oak to a varietal of Shumard Oak and give it the name of Q. shumardii var. texana (Buckl.) Ashe."
 

More Trees Questions

Leaves on maple turning red in June in Pittsburgh PA
August 01, 2010 - We live in PA and have a medium sized maple tree in our back yard. It is not a red maple. This year, in June, the very top of the tree's foliage turned bright red. This bright red started at the t...
view the full question and answer

Registered/patented pecan by Foster W. Fort
August 01, 2010 - Hello, we own a historic house museum once owned by the Fort family of Waco, and have learned that Foster W. Fort developed a type of pecan tree and had an orchard somewhere here around Waco (possibly...
view the full question and answer

How to tell the girls from the boys in wax myrtles (Morella cerifera)
May 14, 2010 - How would I be able to identify whether my wax myrtles are male or female plants? I was given two plants last fall (that came from a family members back yard) and the person who gave them to me didn'...
view the full question and answer

Alleotrophic effects of caffeine found in Ilex species
January 24, 2007 - I'm doing research for my biology class on the alleotrophic effects of caffeine. I'm planning to use Ilex vomitoria as the caffeine-producing plant. As the control I want to use another non-c...
view the full question and answer

Yellowing leaves on Mexican Plum in Salado, TX.
July 24, 2013 - I do live in Cental Texas (Salado) and I have the same problem with my Mexican Plum as the lady in Bellaire, TX. Mine was planted in June in a raised bed and receives sun all day long. Within the la...
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.