Thursday, May 24, 2012

Curled-up pecan leaves

    Growers are seeing some curled-up leaves in their orchards this year. Over the past week, I have spotted two types of leaf distortions in our pecan grove.
     In the photo at right you can see that the 5 leaflets on the end of this leaf are twisted and cupped. This type of damage was caused by the potato leaf hopper during the period of leaf expansion. The holes in the leaflets were caused by sawfly feeding, also earlier this growing season.

    If you take a close look at the underside of a curled-up leaflet, you will note brown necrotic areas along the main midrib and all major veins  (photo at left). When the leaflet was small and very tender, the potato leaf hopper inserted it mouth parts into the vascular system of the leaflet to feed on nutrient rich plant sap. This feeding behavior causes the vascular system to become clogged, stopping the flow of carbohydrates needed for further leaf expansion. Areas of the leaf that rely on those clogged veins for water and nutrients become yellow (lack of nutrients) or turn brown (lack of water). The leaflets curl because affected areas stop expanding while areas that are adjacent to functioning veins continue to expand.
     Potato leaf hoppers migrate through our area every spring. The damage caused by this insect varies from year to year and you will see several trees species affected (including pecan, walnut, ash, & maple).  We do not recommend treating for this transitory insect and just let the tree grow additional leaves to replace the damaged ones.

     A second type of curled up leaf is caused by the leaf roll mite. In the photo at right, note that the margin of the leaflet is rolled into a tight, hardened gall-like structure. As the mite feeds on the edge of a leaflet during leaf expansion, it causes distorted cell growth, creating the "leaf roll".  Leaf roll mites are fairly rare in a native pecan grove and we don't take steps to control what amounts to minimal damage.