En Español

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

Will arctostaphylos grow in Austin, from Murrieta CA
April 23, 2013 - I currently live in Murrieta, CA at 2,000 ft. We planted 800 native plants on our slopes so they were extremely drought tolerant. One of my favorites is the Arctostaphylos family that will take the fr...
view the full question and answer

Is post oak resistant to oak wilt from Dallas TX
November 22, 2013 - I am confused. The NPIN website says that Post Oak IS susceptible to oak wilt, but all the other information I have been able to find says that it is resistant to oak wilt and rarely gets the diesase....
view the full question and answer

Appropriate use of redbud from Austin
May 04, 2014 - I am considering purchasing a hearts of gold redbud; I am also xeriscaping my front yard. I live in Austin,TX. Will this tree do ok in full Tx sun (8+ hours) with once a week watering? If this...
view the full question and answer

care of Red Oak seedling; Quercus buckleyi
October 30, 2007 - We purchased one of the Red Oaks seedlings for sale to members from the LBJ Ranch ($45). Now that we have it at home we are wondering about the care and feeding. We failed to ask any questions or pi...
view the full question and answer

Transplant shock in Chinkapin oak from Copperas Cove TX
June 18, 2012 - I have a newly planted chinkapin oak, appx 14' tall, in the Copperas Cove TX area. It has done great for the first two weeks. Now the leaves are yellowing (June) and beginning to dry up. I water it ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center