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
1 rating

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

Fast growing tree for pasture in Coolidge, Texas
August 03, 2009 - Hello, we purchased some land around Coolidge Tx., it has NO trees on it. This is open pasture land, can you suggest a fairly fast growing tree for shade? And if you know can you give us some names ...
view the full question and answer

Safe branch length of oaks in Clayton NC
November 06, 2011 - I have 2 very large oak trees in my yard and I am concerned about the length of the branches over the house and driveway. Most seem larger than 4" in diameter. What is a safe length for these branc...
view the full question and answer

Trees native to Long Island, NY
November 06, 2010 - My question is: What are the main trees that were native to Long Island before all other trees began to be brought into Long Island?
view the full question and answer

Philadelphus ernestii under live oak in Pflugerville TX
April 05, 2010 - Will Philadelphus ernestii thrive in the root zone of live oak, or would the oak inhibit its growth? I'd like to plant it just at the edge of the canopy.
view the full question and answer

Why didn't the mountain laurels bloom this year in Georgetown, TX?
June 19, 2014 - Why are the mountain laurels not blooming this year, I live in Georgetown, TX?
view the full question and answer

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