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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - March 20, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Trees
Title: Leaf Galls on Live Oak
Answered by: Becky Ruppel

QUESTION:

Hi - I have a live oak tree that always seems to have thinner foliage than our other two. Upon closer examination today I found small brown balls all over the mature leaves. The balls look and feel very much like peppercorns. What is this, and is this a danger to the tree? I did read the other post about Woody oak twig galls but based on that post I don't think that is what is going on here. Thank you for your time.

ANSWER:

The tree in question sounds like it has leaf galls formed by the Mealy Oak Gall Wasp Disholcaspis cinerosa.  This wasp forms both stem and leaf galls depending on the stage in its life-cycle.  Galls are formed when an insect (in this case a type of tiny wasp) lays an egg just under the surface of a stem or leaf.  A gall is formed because the tree is stimulated by the presence of the egg, and eventually the hatched larvae, to grow a structure around the wounded area.  Galls are very common in oaks and are not considered harmeful to the health of trees.

For more detalied information about Mealy Oak Gall Wasp see the Mr. Smarty Plants post by Nan Hampton that talks about the specifics of the wasp, its reproduction, life-cycle, and affect on trees. 

The links in that post appear to no longer work. Below are updated links for the information cited in that answer about Mealy Oak Gall Wasps. 

"The Mealy Oak Gall on Ornimental Live Oaks in Texas"

"Gall Making Insects and Mites"

 

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