de·​fo·​li·​ate (ˌ)dē-ˈfō-lē-ˌāt How to pronounce defoliate (audio)
defoliated; defoliating; defoliates

transitive verb

: to deprive of leaves especially prematurely
Black spot, which looks like its name, attacks leaves. Left untreated, it spreads and multiplies, and can defoliate the plant.Dave Dunn
Just two years after winds from Hurricane Iniki defoliated much of the island, towering eucalyptus and pine trees in this mountainside park are lush with new green leaves.Jeff Phillips

Examples of defoliate in a Sentence

a chemical used to defoliate trees Insects are defoliating the trees.
Recent Examples on the Web In 2022 when the current budworm outbreak likely began, 28,000 acres of pines were defoliated. Detroit Free Press, 16 July 2023 The stems of the plants will turn black, there will be black spots on the leaves, and the most distinctive symptom is the plant will defoliate in sections. Chris McKeown, The Enquirer, 27 Aug. 2023 For Mount Cabot Maple, drama hit the sugar bush in 2016 and again in 2017 in the form of a tent caterpillar infestation that defoliated so many trees that syrup production dropped 60 percent. Amanda Gokee,, 9 Aug. 2023 Spongy moth caterpillars are notorious for defoliating, or eating all of the leaves off of, trees. Claire Reid, Journal Sentinel, 2 Aug. 2023 The last large outbreak of budworm occurred in 2015 and left 118,000 acres of pines defoliated. Detroit Free Press, 16 July 2023 Agent Orange and similar chemicals were used by the U.S. military between the early 1960s and 1971 to destroy crops deemed crucial for the enemy side’s food supplies and to defoliate forests used as hiding spots in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, the Korean demilitarized zone and Laos. Washington Post, 8 May 2021 Large swarms can defoliate trees. Mike Cherney, WSJ, 19 Dec. 2021 Severe infestation can defoliate a plant. San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 July 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'defoliate.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Late Latin defoliatus, past participle of defoliare, from Latin de- + folium leaf — more at blade

First Known Use

1793, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of defoliate was in 1793

Dictionary Entries Near defoliate

Cite this Entry

“Defoliate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


de·​fo·​li·​ate (ˈ)dē-ˈfō-lē-ˌāt How to pronounce defoliate (audio)
defoliated; defoliating
: to deprive of leaves

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