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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.

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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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Wednesday - August 22, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Trees
Title: Tiny holes oozing sap from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My ash tree becomes loaded with butterflies on the trunk. At closer inspection, I see they are drinking sap which is coming from small holes in the trunk. Are the butterflies creating the holes? I don't see any other creature besides the usual ants (not many) on the trunk. Are the butterflies boring into my tree? Are they hurting it? I only see activity on the trunk of the ash tree. Thank you.

ANSWER:

This particular member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team once watched a gentleman downy (or ladderback) woodpecker bring three nestlings to a live oak trunk outside my kitchen window for pecking lessons. The little birds lined up and dutifully watched as Dad did a sample peck; then they would do their lessons. Over the years, other families used the same schoolroom, and there were little lines of pecks all around the (undamaged) live oak. I have since moved away from that tree,  but I wonder if it is still visited by my bird friends. Other birds that leave holes in bark, hunting for insects and sap are sapsuckers. They can actually do a little damage, but a healthy tree should be fine. The ants you see on the trunk are going for the same sap, unless they are on the way up to tend their aphid farms in the leaves. But on the bright side, what a neat way to attract butterflies down to where you can see them closely.

 

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