Explore Plants

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
    
 

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
1 rating

Wednesday - January 11, 2012

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Drought Tolerant, Trees
Title: Leaves dropping on evergreen sumac in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a large evergreen sumac in my back yard that started off as a small shrub 10 years ago. This summer the leaves turned red and now have dropped off. Is the plant dead? It sent out two smaller plants which look fine so far, but I don't want to lose them either. Local plant experts can't figure out what may have happened, since I have done nothing different to the plant or my yard in the entire time I have lived here.

ANSWER:

Rhus virens (Evergreen sumac) is, according to this USDA Plant Profile map, native in the area of Bexar County. It is not a true evergreen; like live oaks it drops its leaves in the Spring, which are quickly replaced by new leaves. The two small plants that you are seeing are actually shoots, still part of the original tree, and emerging from the same root. We are guessing, although this tree is drought tolerant, that our unusually hot and dry weather caused it to be drought-deciduous, dropping its leaves early to protect the roots.

You aready know, because of the shoots, that the roots are still alive. Use the thumbnail test to see if any of the stems have died. Beginnning fairly close to the top (or as high as you can reach) scrape off a very thin layer of the bark with your thumbnail. If there is a thin layer of green beneath the bark scraping, that trunk is still alive. You can check other areas or branches and, if you find no green layer, move farther down on the same branch.

We could find no projected age for this plant, but its mature height is usually about 8 to 10 feet. We did find information saying it could tolerate extra watering if it was in a well-drained soil but since, as you say, the care for it has not changed in 10 years, we doubt that could be the problem. At this point, we prescribe patience. If you found the green underskin, it is probably just waiting for better times. Leaves should begin to reappear in the Spring, per schedule.

 

From the Image Gallery


Evergreen sumac
Rhus virens

Evergreen sumac
Rhus virens

Evergreen sumac
Rhus virens

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Problems with gnats in dirt
December 27, 2008 - I have problems with gnats in my dirt. It's something I can't get control of. What can I do?
view the full question and answer

Sap dripping from a lacey oaks in San Antonio
September 06, 2012 - I have a lacey oak tree, approximately 6 ft. tall that has been in the ground almost a year. The tree looks healthy but there is a small area on the trunk that looks and feels wet. The substance is s...
view the full question and answer

Apparent disease in peach tree in Austin
June 12, 2008 - I have a peach tree that the leaves are "bleeding" out on. The leaves are continuing to get paler and paler. There are no peaches on the tree this year either. What can I do?
view the full question and answer

Problems with redbud in DeLand FL
June 15, 2011 - My native Redbud trees leaves are turning yellow and a sucker branch has died. What could it be?
view the full question and answer

Swarming insects on non-native willow in Washington PA
September 25, 2011 - I have had a very large, beautiful pillow willow bush/tree growing next to our garage for about 8 years. Last year at the end of August, it began to attract white-faced hornets and yellow jackets by t...
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.