Abnormal Leaf Development on Oak Trees


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.

Trees Affected

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.

Keywords: oak tatters, abnormal leaf development, oak disease

About this Author

Cleveland Van Cecil is a freelancer writer specializing in technology. He has been a freelance writer for three years and has published extensively on eHow.com, writing articles on subjects as diverse as boat motors and hydroponic gardening. Van Cecil has a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts from Baldwin-Wallace College.