The humble oak tree is one of the most beautiful species in the United States. Unfortunately, abnormal leaf shapes have been developing in oak trees throughout the North Central region of the United States over the last few decades. Now dubbed "oak tatters," the disease seems to be spreading.
Oak tatters generally affects oaks that are within the white oak group, such as white, bur and swamp white oak. The red oak group, such as red, black and shingle oaks, are also occasionally affected by tatters.
Once attacked, new leaves that grow on the oak tree look thin or tattered in appearance. The color of the leaf may also look somewhat dull and the oak will often look like it is missing leaves. This will generally appear sometime in mid-May. It is not uncommon for infected trees to also produce undamaged leaves 2 to 3 weeks after the damaged leaves appear.
The reproduction of new leaves to replace the tattered ones is a waste of the oak's resources, eating away at stored water and nutrients. Developed trees that are heavy in foliage may survive, but repetition of the same problem year after year can cause the tree to fail. Adverse weather conditions such as flood or drought can cause extra stress, resulting in death of the oak.
The cause of oak tatters is believed to be due to leaf tissue damage while the leaf is still in the bud, or when the leaf is just beginning to emerge from the bud. Although the cause has not been determined as yet, some conditions such as low temperature at budding, insect development on new leaves and unhealthy herbicides may be leading causes.
Prevention and Cure
As of yet, there are no cures for oak tatters, and little can be done once an infection has occurred. Preventing additional stress to the oak is important to prevent early death. Avoiding transfer of any new trees to the area prevents stress to the root system.