There’s a new bug in town. And yep — you guessed it — it’s a native of Asia. With all the bugs and diseases that comes from Asia, it’s any wonder that there are even ANY trees there. Yikes.
The latest news of doom to come from the cooperative extension is the emerald ash borer, a tiny, iridescent green beetle that kills ash trees. I love ash trees. They were a hearty replacement for the gigantic elm trees that one graced Main Street America. They died off by a beetle, too, in the 1950s and 60s. So now you know where the name “Elm Street” comes from and why there are no elms. The ash trees also grow to be giants. When we moved here, there was an enormous ash tree in the front yard. It must have been 40 feet tall. Unfortunately, it had been planted smack dab on the property line, and the neighbor took it down. 🙁 So he could put in an asphalt parking lot. 🙁
Anyway, between chainsaw-crazy, asphalt-loving neighbors and the emerald ash borer, the ash tree looks like it’s in trouble. Really, there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do. It’s a BUG. We all know how pervasive bugs are– there’s no stopping them when they smell fresh meat.
The emerald ash borer is native to Russia, China, and Korea. It was first detected in North America in 2002, lurking in shipping containers brought to Canton, Michigan. The bugs (in containers) spread to Maryland and Virginia, and it really hasn’t taken long for the bug to reach the surrounding states and up into Canada. Now, it’s here in New York State. There are 7 billion ash trees at risk by this dumb little bug. The emerald ash borer has already chewed through millions of trees in the Midwest.
The ash tree is a commercially important tree to us. It’s a very versatile and dense hardwood. We use ash tree wood to make guitars, baseball bats, furniture joinery, flooring, milled products, tool handles, and millions of other materials where strong but flexible wood is needed. The sugary sap from ash was even once used by the ancient Norse in making their “Mead of Inspiration.” The ash tree is also an important shade tree since it grows so tall so quickly. The Northeastern White Ash can tower to heights of 100 feet.
The emerald ash borer kills ash trees by strangulation (called “girdling”). The bug lays its eggs beneath the surface of the bark, where the larvae tunnels around the sensitive phloem and cambium layers of the tree. The tree, unable to transport nutrients from its roots to upper trunk and branches, dies within 2 to 4 years from infestation. Good Lord. Since 2002, the bug has killed 50 million trees in North America.
The only thing we can do to stave off the pandemic is to be VERY careful about firewood we carry to camp sites and report the beetle should we discover it in our area. The Department of Environmental Conservation is taking this threat very seriously and has quarantined several counties in New York State (see maps below). See their page dec.ny.gov/animals/7253.html for more information.
As far as we know, there is no natural predator to the emerald ash borer in North America. I read a story that a certain type of wasp was discovered on ash trees in China, so that may offer some help. I wish there was some kind of easy solution. Who knows what problems imported wasps will bring….