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
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

Screening Plants for Cape Cod
June 17, 2014 - I need to plant some fairly high growing leafy plants/bushes/trees for privacy and as a sound barrier in (the remains of) a pine forest in Cape Cod, MA. The pines grow tall and skinny so that we can s...
view the full question and answer

Something dripping from red oak in Austin
July 30, 2012 - There is a large red oak outside my apartment. The leaves are shiny and covered with what appears to be oil. The ground underneath is coated with this also. When I parked under the tree my car beca...
view the full question and answer

Variegated leaves on Ungnadia speciosa (Mexican buckeye)
April 11, 2007 - I grew some mexican buckeyes from seed last year and one of them has variegated leaves. I haven't seen this before- have I just not looked at enough mexican buckeyes up close or is this an uncommon f...
view the full question and answer

Distance of oak tree to existing driveway in San Antonio
July 07, 2009 - How close can I plant a live oak tree (15 gal) next to an existing driveway. I have about 3 feet space to plant between a fence and a driveway. This is the best spot to provide future shade. My concer...
view the full question and answer

Plants for under live oak in Houston
July 09, 2011 - Hi, We have a live oak in our back garden in Houston and would like to plant a combination of some native shrubs and flowers near it (preferably perennial). The garden bed is about 4 metres from the...
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 | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center