En EspaŅol

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
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
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - May 30, 2013

From: Kerrville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Desert Willow and Orchid tree with no upper leaves from Kerrville TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have two 5 year old Desert Willows planted in my yard. This year only one has leaved out and blooming. The other is bare but the branches are not dead and it has new growth at the bottom. Do you know what is wrong with the tree? The same thing has happened to my orchid tree? All the other trees are doing great. Shows no signs of disease or trouble just looks dormant. What is wrong with them? What can I do? Thank you


You can follow the two plant links below to our webpages on them to see what we have in our Native Plant Database.

Bauhinia lunarioides (Anacacho orchid tree) USDA Plant Profile Map showing it not native to Kerr County

Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) USDA Plant Profile Map showing it native to Edwards Co., riight next to Kerr County.

Frankly, we are baffled, but are going to ask you some questions (that you only have to answer to yourself) to see if we can find some clues.

1. Are both "sick" plants in the same area and the other trees somewhere else in your garden?

Here are the growing conditions on Bauhinia lunarioides (Anacacho orchid tree):

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rocky, limestone soils. Sandy, sandy loam, medium loam, limestone-based
Conditions Comments: Does best when planted on the south side of a building, protected from winter winds."

And the growing conditions on Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow):

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained limestone soils preferred, but also does well in sands, loams, clays, caliches, granitic, and rocky soils. Minimal organic content the norm.
Conditions Comments: Allow to dry out between waterings, as this will encourage more extensive waves of blooms. Avoid excessive water and fertilizer, as that can lead to overly rapid growth, fewer blooms, and a weaker plant. Prolonged saturation can result in rot. Wont grow as fast or get as large in clay soil but wont suffer there either. Can be drought-deciduous in some regions. Can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F."

2. Compare these growing conditions to the well and the sick trees. Same? Different?

3. Do all the trees have good drainage? In other words, is there any chance they are being over-watered, with perhaps water standing on their roots?

4. Are they in the proper amount of sunshine and/or a sheltered spot for winter?

If there are shoots coming up from the base, this would indicate that the top has died from some shock: drought? cold? spraying of herbicides in the area? Without seeing the trees and knowing the history of their environment, we couldn't begin to guess what is wrong with them.To determine if the top is truly dead, do the thumbnail test: with your thumbnail scratch a very thin outer layer of the tree off as high as you can reach. If there is a thin layer of green beneath that scratched off area, that branch is still alive. If not, keep working your way down the tree, until you come to a green layer.

Our advice is to detect and/or correct any conditions that we have mentioned that might cause a problem. Of course, it might not be practical to dig up and transplant 5-year old trees, and that certainly should not be done in the summer. Woody plants should be planted/transplanted in cool weather, November to January, in Texas. If you feel the plants may have too much moisture in the soil, cut back on watering. When you stick your finger in the dirt and it feels really dry, stick a hose as far down in the soil as you can and let it drip slowly until the surface dirt shows moisture. Do this no more than once a week, if that. DO NOT FERTILIZE! Fertilizer, especially high nitrogen fertilizer such as is used on grass to encourage green growth, will only urge more growth on an already-stressed tree.

Once you have made any changes that seem practical in the culture of the trees, we would recommend patience. If either or both trees dies, take a lesson and plant the next ones in a better place, with more drainage, less water, some shelter - whatever works. Your decision.


From the Image Gallery

Anacacho orchid tree
Bauhinia lunarioides

Anacacho orchid tree
Bauhinia lunarioides

Anacacho orchid tree
Bauhinia lunarioides

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

More Trees Questions

Native trees as alternatives to Japanese Red Maple
October 24, 2007 - Where can I find some Japanese Red Maples to collect seed?
view the full question and answer

Problems with Monterrey Oak in Austin
March 26, 2013 - We had a local tree service plant two Monterrey Oak trees on 4/2/2012. At the time we noticed that woodpeckers had had a field day on the trunk bark of both trees with the most damage being on the lar...
view the full question and answer

Non-blooming parsley hawthorn in Madison MS
April 25, 2010 - I have a parsley hawthorn that has never bloomed. It is thriving in a low area under tall pines. It gets filtered sun most of the day with more direct sun in late afternoon. I don't know the age but...
view the full question and answer

protecting native trees during drought
June 07, 2011 - We are very concerned about our mature live oaks and cedar elms because they are so stressed due to the drought. We have lost several of our mountain juniper and I really don't want to lose our more...
view the full question and answer

Possibility of oak wilt or iron deficiency
September 04, 2007 - This spring my two oak trees, 4" and 7" in diameter, in my yard in Kyle started showing very light green leaves with green veins. I've been told this is chlorosis, so I treated them with a couple o...
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.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center