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What is Oak Gall?

By Chris Bond
Oak galls can appear on all parts of the oak tree, including the leaves.

Galls on oak trees are irregularly shaped growths, which can be found on the oak’s leaves, twigs, stems, flowers, bark, acorns and roots. Most types of galls are fairly benign and do no lasting harm to the tree. Two varieties, the horned oak gall and the gouty oak gall, can however, do significant damage to an oak tree.

About Galls

Oak galls often form when buds emerge in early spring.

Galls are formed when a tiny wasp or insect species injects a growth hormone into the plant. This hormone causes the plant tissue to grow abnormally and form an enclosure around developing wasp larvae. Early spring bud break is the usual time of year when oak galls form. The young insect then feeds on the gall tissue during its development. Once mature, the insect emerges from the gall, leaving an exit hole where it has left.

Identification

Galls can take on any appearance, including a mass of plant tissue.

Galls have no uniform appearance; they can be any shape or size. Each type of insect species that causes galls creates an enclosure that is unique and indicative of its respective species. Some produce smooth galls; others create hairy or spiny ones. They can be spherical, oblong, dish-shaped or just appear as a large mass of tissue ranging from a fraction of an inch up to several inches in diameter.

Prevalence

Many species of oak are susceptible to galls, though most galls are harmless.

Oak galls can be found throughout the United States and southern Canada. Each of the two harmful species, horned and gouty, seek different host oak varieties. The horned oak gall forms on pin oaks, scrub oaks, black oaks, blackjack oaks, water oaks and white oaks. The gouty type of gall has a slightly smaller range and affects pin oaks, red oaks, scarlet oaks, and black oaks. Knowing the species of oak you have helps to identify the species of gall that may be affecting it.

Treatment

Maintaining the health an oak tree is the best defense against galls.

You cannot treat the galls themselves with pesticides, but even treating the pests that create the galls is extremely difficult. Good cultural practices are recommended over the use of chemicals. Infected twigs and branches should be pruned. Infected leaves should be collected and removed when they fall. Oak trees that are in decline are more susceptible to gall damage than healthy ones. A proactive approach including fertilization and monitoring of your trees is the most effective strategy to combat the damage caused by oak galls.

 

About the Author

 

Chris Bond has been writing about gardening, sustainable agriculture and local history since 2005. He has been published in "The Plain Dealer," "The Repository" and online. Bond holds an A.A.S. from the State University of New York at the Finger Lakes campus in Canandaigua, N.Y.