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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.

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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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Monday - July 11, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Trees
Title: Why are small leaf pieces aligned on top of exposed root?
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Hi. An oak tree in my yard has one of its exposed roots covered in hundreds of small pieces of leaves. The pieces follow exactly the shape of the root above the surface. What insect would do this and why?

ANSWER:

I am going to ask you questions in return.  Were those pieces of leaf of fairly uniform size, of irregular shape, and freshly cut (green)?  Could they have been slowly moving???  What Mr. Smarty Plants is thinking is that they were cut pieces of leaves being transferred to the nest of leaf-cutting ants.  Such ants do occur in the Austin area, but infrequently.  Like other ant species, they sometimes find that moving along an exposed root or fallen branch is a faster way to carry their loads than making their more difficult trails through grass and leaf litter.  See the indicated article abstract for a description of this phenomenon.

If the leaf fragments you observed were not being slowly carried along the root, I don't know why they would have been put down and left.  Give me more information if this explanation does not solve the question.  We may have to propose a different answer.  Root pixies?

 

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