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Hemlock's Under Attack in the East

The hemlock wooly adelgid is killing hemlock trees in the eastern United States. The adelgid nymph feeds on young twig tissue, depriving the tree of stored starches, causing it to die.

Businesses and homeowners in the eastern U.S. are being urged to treat hemlock trees and protect them from the outbreak of hemlock wooly adelgid, an aphid-like insect that is killing eastern hemlock trees, according to an arborist in West Virginia. "Businesses and homeowners should be alarmed to this serious problem," said Debra Benbow, a plant health care specialist and ISA-certified arborist. "If left untreated, the trees could be dead within one to four years," she said. "Several other parts of the eastern United States have had to watch their trees die, but now we have a better chance to solve the problem and save our hemlock trees."

Benbow said to determine what options of treatment the hemlock trees or shrubs need depends on the infestation level. "If the trees aren't showing any signs of infestation, then a horticultural soap or oil can be used," she explained. "Also for prevention, a systonic insecticide can be applied to the soil, which will be taken up into the sap flow of the tree and will give it multi-year protection." The insects die after eating the sap of an inoculated tree, Benbow added. If the infestation is mild or heavy, an immediate pesticide treatment must be applied to help control the problem, she added.

Currently, the National Park Service is cooperating with the U.S. Forest Service to suppress the hemlock woolly adelgid. "This adelgid is a native of Japan and was first reported in the eastern United States in 1951 near Richmond, Va. By 2005, the insect was established in portions of 16 states from Maine to Georgia, and infestations now covers about half of the hemlocks' range," explained John Perez, NPS biologist at New River Gorge National River. "The impact has been most severe in Virginia, eastern West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut."

During the adelgid's life cycle, its nymph form feeds on young twig tissue, which deprives the tree of stored starches, eventually causing its death. As the adelgid matures, it produces a white, wool-like waxy substance to protect itself from predators and prevent its eggs from drying out. This tell-tale "wool" can be observed on the underside of hemlock branch tips from late fall to early summer.

For more information about the hemlock wooly adelgid, visit the U.S. Forest Service website

The Pryor Daily Times

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June 18, 2019, 6:37 pm PDT

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