I have been stopped by concerned citizens while out and about in the county as well as while on the water checking fishermen. Many people around the area have noticed oak trees turning brown. In some cases only parts of the tree is affected and in others the entire tree is covered in dead leaves. Do not overreact. This occurrence is not as severe as it may appear.


Q:  Why is the oak tree in my front yard turning brown?

A:  I have been stopped by concerned citizens while out and about in the county as well as while on the water checking fishermen. Many people around the area have noticed oak trees turning brown. In some cases only parts of the tree is affected and in others the entire tree is covered in dead leaves. Do not overreact. This occurrence is not as severe as it may appear.

The cause of the problem is a wasp from the family Cynipidae which will lay its eggs on the emerging oak leaves in the spring. When the eggs hatch the wasp larvae begin to feed on the leaf creating brown spots referred to as “Galls,” which will form a small growth about the size of a pinhead. The growth provides the larva food and protection.  In bad cases the entire leaf will turn brown.

Cynipidae larvae will feed on the leaves of the infected tree but do not damage the tree itself. “It looks worse than it really is,” stated Conservation Department Resource Scientist Rob Lawrence. “Some people mistakenly think the tree has died when it turns brown.  However, it is extremely rare for oaks to die from this insect.”

This past winter was hard on many of the trees in this area but only trees that have been severely stressed due to fire or ice damage will be critically affected by the infestation.  MDC is urging tree owners not to cut the tree down as it will more than likely survive to produce leaves again next year, and possibly even grow fresh leaves later this season.

Home owners can limit the chances of future infections by burning or composting the fallen leaves of infected trees, in essence, killing the larvae of the wasp which laid the eggs.

Many of us look forward to the spring bloom of flowers and leaves, reminding us of the natural cycles we experience in life. When a healthy looking tree suddenly turns brown we tend to think the worst. In this case, don’t worry. Your oak tree has probably been infected by an insect and will survive. If you have further concerns please feel free to bring a sample of the leaves and branches into the MDC office in Camdenton. The forestry staff is happy to answer questions and help you to determine what is going on with your trees. 

I am sad to conclude this article as it will be my last installment of the Ask the Agent column.

On July 1st, I will take a transfer to Columbia where I will begin working as the Boone County Conservation Agent. Conservation Agent Mike Jones will replace me in this role. Agent Jones was a local kid, graduating from Camdenton High School and working as a Lake Ozark Police Officer and DNR Park Ranger before becoming the Agent in Miller County. Agent Jones is a respected officer and a great guy. 

I have enjoyed my time in Camden County, learned a great deal and met a lot of wonderful people.  I will miss the Lake and the residents I have served.  Thank you all for your support these past years, I will not forget you.

As always, if you have any questions you would like to have answered please contact the Missouri Department of Conservation office in Camdenton at (573) 346-2210.