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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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Thursday - September 05, 2013

From: sunfield, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Tree Lost Leaves
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

Are leaf cutter ants found in Michigan too? My leaves are being completely stripped off the tree. It went from growing very well when we planted it, to having completely no leaves at all. I know the leaves are not falling off and we do have a fence around it.

ANSWER:

Leafcutter ants are not as far north as Michigan and you would see them at work on your trees if they were present. Wikipedia.com says that leafcutter ants, a non-generic name, are any of 47 species of leaf-chewing ants belonging to the two genera Atta and Acromyrmex. These species of tropical, fungus-growing ants are all endemic to South and Central America, Mexico and parts of the southern United States.  Leafcutter ants "cut and process fresh vegetation (leaves, flowers, and grasses) to serve as the nutritional substrate for their fungal cultivars." There is a map of the present range of leaf cutter ants from Ant Genera of the World.

Other possible reasons for your leaves being stripped from the tree include: strong jets of water (forceful sprinklers), squirrels in the fall taking leaves and branches for their fall nests (they love oaks), hail, a major insect invasion (gypsy moths, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, deer, etc.), leafcutter bees (perfect circles cut out of the leaf) or an environmental issue (water, drought, heat, frost) that caused the leaves to all fall rapidly – even overnight.

If you think that the leaf drop is compromising the health of your tree, an arborist should be consulted or seek advice from the Michigan State University, Department of Horticulture.

 

 

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