Oak wilt vs. leaf diseases: Can you tell the difference?

Oak wilt symptoms are active right now, but so are several other oak leaf diseases.  Can you tell the difference?

Trees with oak wilt will suddenly start to drop their leaves in July and August.  These leaves will be either tan or a water-soaked greenish color away from the petiole (leaf stem).  Near the petiole there will often be an area that is still green, even though the leaf has fallen to the ground.  Symptoms typically start near the top of the tree and progress downwards.

Leaves dropped from a tree dying from oak wilt. Note the discoloration on the distal portions of the leaf, while the petiole area is still green.

Leaves dropped from a tree dying from oak wilt. Note the discoloration on the distal portions of the leaf, while the petiole area is still green.

Oak wilt leaves often drop from the top of the tree first.

Oak wilt leaves often drop from the top of the tree first.

Anthracnose is a fungal leaf disease that is quite common this year due to the wet weather that we’ve had.  Anthracnose is not fatal to the tree and the tree will hold these leaves throughout the season.  Irregular areas of the leaf will be dead, and if this infection occurred when the leaf was expanding the leaf will often end up misshapen or puckered.

Anthracnose causes irregular dead blotches on the leaf.

Anthracnose causes irregular dead blotches on the leaf.

Tubakia is another leaf disease that we will sometimes see.  Symptoms are typically worse in the lower canopy.  Leaves may drop from the tree but the pattern of mortality on the leaf will be different than what you see with oak wilt.

This oak is being affected by Tubakia, a fungal leaf disease. Symptoms are significantly worse in the lower canopy.

This oak is being affected by Tubakia, a fungal leaf disease. Symptoms are significantly worse in the lower canopy.

Written by: Linda Williams, forest health specialist, Woodruff, (Linda.Williams@wisconsin.gov), 715-356-5211 x232.

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