Oak Leaf Tatters and Herbicides

White Oak Leaf Tatters

White Oak Leaf Tatters Photo Credit Plant Management Network

What to make of a study of the impact of herbicide drift from farming operations on oak trees?

In a peer reviewed 2004 study at the University of Illinois, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in Urbana, Ill., scientists found drift of chloroacetamide herbicides is a possible cause of the leaf tatters syndrome in White Oak trees.

During the last few decades, white oak (Quercus alba L.) in the north central region have developed malformed spring leaves often called “leaf tatters.” The symptoms begin with the death of some interveinal leaf tissues, eventually leaving only the main leaf veins with little interveinal tissues present (See Illustration Above). Leaf tatters reduces the overall canopy of trees, making them more susceptible to other stresses. Leaf tatters has been reported in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

It’s a single study, probably not enough data to fully ratify the relationship, even if there is concern among foresters about how herbicide drift may be affecting stands of trees in both urban and rural areas.

The topic is worth more study than it is getting, as chloroacetamide is the active ingredient in a number of herbicides used with row crop corn and soybeans.

Preserving our woodland heritage is more complicated than letting a stand of trees go on as it has. Existing oak-hickory forests are being subjected to a wide range of stress including growth of invasive species below the canopy, and a lack of significant events, like forest fires, to remove mature trees, permitting new growth. After being in place for thousands of years, the oak-hickory forest will become a thing of the past without modern forestry management.

If there are other studies of the impact of herbicide drift on forests, I couldn’t easily find them. In fact, I had to contact an acquaintance to locate the study referenced in this post. Besides a small group of scientists and foresters, I don’t know who else is even looking at this.

What this study suggests to me, and to others whose opinion I value, is chemical drift from large scale farming operations can impact life in urban areas where most of the population lives.

As we escape rural areas in favor of cities we remain connected to what goes on in the country. Part of that, perhaps, includes maladies caused by chemical drift from large farms.

It is time we, as a society, spent time and resources determining what the relationship between chemical drift and our lives in the city is.

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