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Monday - November 15, 2010

From: Dripping Springs, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Problems for Texas Madrones from Dripping Springs TX
Answered by: Leslie Uppinghouse

QUESTION:

Dear neighbor: I'm blessed with a property with many Texas Madrone on it. I've been trying for a few years to determine what causes apparently healthy trees to suddenly blacken and die. I've contacted numerous authorities w/o success. Often a tree will have several blackened limbs which, if pruned, seem to staunch the die off. Other times the blackened area extends up the trunk or limb in a stripe. This is always is eventually fatal to the plant. When such a trunk is cut, it shows a dead region from the blackened bark inwards. This seem similar to the Pacific Madrone Decline mentioned in the literature of the Northwest, but I haven't found any definitive answer as to the cause be it it viral, bacteriological, fungal, etc. Can you help answer this, or steer me to someone that can? I'm willing to fund some research and/or testing if useful. Thank you.

ANSWER:

Arbutus xalapensis (Texas madrone) is a fussy tree and lately the issue you are speaking of is becoming alarmingly common.

Madrone does have predators: The European Bark Beetle, Porcupines, deer antler rubbings, even black bears can all harm the bark. It is now thought that the limbs going black are fungus based. Some speculate that our Texas Madrone trees are stressed out from our years of drought. Although they can go without a lot of water, years of drought followed by unusual amounts of rain may be causing the rotting of the limbs.

According to this USDA Plant Profile, the tree does grow natively in this part of Central Texas, but there are very experienced gardeners that have struggled to keep them going. We found one interesting comment from someone on the Dave's Garden forum which might be a clue.

"When we bought our property, the "Naked Indian", or Madrone, was growing on it. We found out that the tree must grow close to a cedar, which is a nursetree. It also does not need much water, is great for dry areas. It also does not like to be moved. The red bark is just beautiful, and stands out among the the green cedars."

We also found a scholarly paper on the Arbutus xalapensis (Texas madrone) from the USDA Forestry Service; under "Management Considerations" we found several comments that sounded very much like what you were describing in your own situation. Unfortunately, it makes no suggestions for a fix on this situation. Since we are neither entomologists nor plant pathologists, we suggest you contact the Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension Office for Hays County. These trees are native to this area and hopefully some research on keeping the increasingingly rare tree growing has been or is being done.

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