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?


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
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - August 31, 2010

From: Wimberley, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Transplants, Trees
Title: Flaming sumacs in trouble in Wimberley TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I planted three flaming sumacs last fall and all leafed out this spring. Then, early this month all the leaves turned brown on one and it appears to have died. Today I noticed that a second one is doing the same. But this time I noticed at the base of the trunk weeping brown spots, possibly caused by an insect. I'm wondering what type of natural treatment I can use on the remaining tree.


Our Native Plant Database does not have a sumac with the common name "flaming sumac" so we are betting that Rhus lanceolata (prairie sumac) which also has the common name "flameleaf sumac" was sold to you with the trade name 'Flaming Sumac.'  Sumacs are difficult to transplant because they are a suckering plant and making sure you get some roots along with the sucker is sometimes a problem. 

In terms of what is causing the decline of your trees, the first thing that comes to mind is transplant shock. You transplanted them at the right time, and they leafed out in the Spring, but sometimes transplant shock can show up as much as 3 years later. If you purchased the plant in a pot from a nursery, it may not have been properly placed in the pot, with damage to the roots, or even have been in the pot too long and become rootbound, which would mean as the tree developed in the Spring, it needed to put roots out into the native soil around it, but the roots were running round and round in the root ball and could not break out. In our research, we learned that too much irrigation or fertilization can lead to plant decline. As with most native plants, the members of the Rhus genus do not need fertilization. The sumac does, however, need some deep watering the first year it is in place, if there are not regular rains.

On the subject of disease, we found one reference to fusarium wilt in sumacs, but when we researched fusarium wilt, we discovered that it is mostly tomatoes that are affected by this, and that cotton root rot is also a fusarium wilt. But we also found a reference to verticillium wilt in sumacs, and then found several research articles on that. It sounds much more plausible that this is the problem, considering the description of symptoms that you cited.  From the USDA Forest Service on Rhus Copallina (closely related) we extracted this rather depressing quotation:

"Verticillium wilt causes wilting of individual stems, followed by death of the foliage. Eventually the entire plant dies. Prune out infected branches. Do not replant in the same spot with sumac or other susceptible plants."

Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne disease, and treatments for it are few and chancy. Usually the recommendation is to get those plants out and destroy them, and then be careful not to plant another woody plant which can also be susceptible in the same area, Here are two websites with lists of susceptible and not-so-susceptible woody plants when you are considering replacement:

Trees for You, Verticillium Wilt, a Disease that Attacks Trees from Inside Out

University of Minnesota Extension Verticillium Wilt of Trees and Shrubs

From Google, here are pictures of Verticillium Wilt in Sumac.

We are sorry we couldn't give you better news. We are not plant pathologists and can only guess, based on our research, what the real problem is. For some more information, we would suggest you contact the Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension Office for Hays County


More Trees Questions

Need for sunlight for Sophora secundiflora to bloom
June 22, 2007 - My mountain laurel doesn't bloom. We live in Oak Hill and planted it about seven years ago. It bloomed one year at about age three or four. Since then nothing. What can I do? It only gets indire...
view the full question and answer

Native Desert Willow and bunchgrass for Lubbock TX
July 29, 2013 - We live in Lubbock and have decided to try to make our front yard as native as possible. It has been a very difficult process finding native species locally (even the local Aggie nursery sells a lot ...
view the full question and answer

Selection of a small variety of Desert Willow for SE Texas
August 02, 2011 - Looking to plant desert willow as shrub. Any helpful tips to keep height down and plant full or bushy.
view the full question and answer

Sudden death of one side of Mountain Laurel from Canyon Lake TX
July 22, 2013 - Hello! We live in Canyon Lake TX and have a Mountain Laurel that is in distress. It is planted in an irrigated flower bed and has been happily growing for 5 years. It is about 5' tall and has sever...
view the full question and answer

Cause of chlorosis on dogwood
July 23, 2007 - Help!! I have been gone for three days, when I came home and looked out my back door I discovered that one of my huge dogwoods was turning yellow. We have had more than our share of rain this year and...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center