What Bug Is Eating My State Tree?

This week’s blog was written by Paloma M., a Brookies alumni. Paloma is a reporter who specializes in environmental and climate studies. She loves informing those around her about the latest news about our planet, with an emphasis on politics and media. She attended Wildlife Leadership Academy to get out into the world and learn more about the environment she was reporting on.

Paloma collaborated with Leo U., a Brookies alumni to provide the photos for her blog. Leo is an aspiring artist and photographer with a passion for evolutionary biology and herpetology. They love informing those around them about the natural world, especially topics that are obscure or overlooked. Leo attended the Wildlife Leadership academy to learn more about native species and conservation.

The Eastern Hemlock is the designated state tree for Pennsylvania. Passed down from Canada around the 1900s, it quickly gained traction all throughout the state. However, recent years have presented a new and dangerous threat to the beloved tree: insect invasion.

Initially introduced unintentionally from Japan to Canada in the early 1920s and later moving south, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, otherwise known as HWA, quickly spread like wildfire among all Hemlock trees. They bore holes into the trunks of trees, eating away at their starches and severely damaging the internal structure of the hemlock. Both the state of New York (another large location of the Hemlock) and the state of Pennsylvania have instilled measures to help keep our state trees safe. Most of these measures are offensive, targeting already present insects via chemical pesticides. Some of these measures include Biological Prevention, introducing natural predators to kill the unwanted species; Chemical Control, which uses insecticides; and Integrated Pest Management, a combination of the previous two.

Invasive HWA actively attacking hemlock tree. This infection in particular is not very advanced yet.

As homeowners, there are many things you can do to help your local trees. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources states that there are 3 main things to do: Use systemic insecticides, Harvest and replant and Wait and see. The main method used is systemic insecticides which uses the chemicals Imidacloprid and Dinotefuran, both of which can be found at your local gardening store. For some trees, it may be better to harvest and replace, planting a new, healthy tree in the place of the infected stump if the homeowner sees that the infection has progressed too far. The final suggestion of wait and see is mainly for if only one tree is infected. The best thing to do is see if only the isolated tree remains infected and whether investing in something like insecticides is worth it.

A small localized infection on a local Eastern Hemlock tree.
A small localized infection on a local Eastern Hemlock tree.

In the end, all homeowners need to contribute to save this beloved tree. Its survival depends on everyone pitching in and following the guidelines found on the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. You can also find additional guidelines with the New York State Department of Conservation. For more information, the New York State Hemlock Initiative is a great place to find accurate and useful information. And, most importantly, let’s save our state tree.

The photos used in this blog were captured and belong to Leo U., a Brookies alumni.