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What is happening to the local sycamore trees?

May 22, 2019
Sycamore tree

Question: I have noticed that a lot of very mature (> 80 ft) sycamore trees look ill. They don’t seem to have as many leaves, or as large as they usually get and some have already turned brown and died. There are at least 2 in my 5 acres of woods and have noticed the same with other sycamores while driving from Mooresville to Indianapolis. Is there a certain blight/cancker/pest that is damaging sycamores this year?

Answer: I have also noticed that many sycamores appear relatively bare and may have brown or wilted leaves on the stems and littering the ground around the trees. The culprit is sycamore anthracnose, a fungal disease that causes damage and death of leaves as well as stem cankers. Sycamore anthracnose symptoms can be severe when we have cool, moist spring weather at the time of bud-break and leaf emergence , but healthy trees generally recover and put on new leaf area once the environmental conditions that favor the disease change to the warmer, drier conditions of late spring and summer.

Normally, the best management practices for sycamore anthracnose are patience and maintaining good tree health. The disease cycle is dependent on cool, moist spring weather, so it will run its course by late spring or summer when the average temperatures rise. Trees that are repeatedly defoliated could be reduced in vigor and be more susceptible to other problems, so steps to promote good tree health can be used as a preventative measure.

Resources:
Fertilizing Woody Plants – The Education Store, Purdue Extension Resource Center
Diseases of Landscape Plants (leaf diseases) – The Education Store
Sycamore – The Education Store
Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series – The Education Store
Anthracnose of Shade Trees – Purdue Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory
Purdue Plant Doctor App- Purdue Extension
Got Nature? Blog, Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Lenny Farlee, Sustaining Hardwood Extension Specialist
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

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