2002 Was a Bad Year for the Lorax

03 Jul


Fraxinus species


Out botanizing today John and George saw ailing Red Bay (Persea borbonia) trees, probably thanks to Laurel Wilt Disease. The victims had characteristic black staining in the young wood, and I thought I saw galleries in a freshly sawed fallen trunk.  Whether or not my Dr. Oz diagnosis is any good is no biggie, because the important—or at least odd—thing is an approaching parallel disaster.  Most of this week I’ve been in southeastern Michigan, my botanical homeland, and the epicenter of yet another U.S. tree calamity headed our way, the Emerald Ash Borer. The first U.S. Emerald Ash Borer and the first U.S. Laurel Wilt Disease both date to 2002. (And for the hat trick, the Oriental Fruit Fly made its U.S. continental debut in Florida likewise in 2002.)

Both diseases spread southward from more northern origins:

  • The Emerald Ash Borer first turned up near Detroit. (It had probably been around awhile.)
  • Laurel Wilt first appeared in Georgia.

Asian beetles are to blame for both:

  • The Redbay Ambrosia Beetle drills fungus-lined galleries into red bay wood.
  • The Emerald Ash Borer destroys the inner bark and youngest ash wood.

Both beetles were probably stowaways in wooden pallets or other wooden shipping materials. (So was the Asian Longhorned Beetle, another pest on ash, maples, and more.)

Both beetles have broadened the attack to species beyond the initial hosts.

This week botanizing around Toledo, Ohio, and Adrian, Hillsdale,  Ann Arbor, and Jackson, Michigan was a thrill in wild flowers, native orchids, grasses and sedges, and butterflies, but….all silver linings have their dark cloud, and not just the mosquitoes. The area looks in places like Florida after a hurricane but the Michigan hurricane selected ash trees.   As the decaying bark falls away, the Emerald Ash Borer galleries suggest ancient scripts…spelling doom.   Ash seedlings come up, but who knows how they will fare?


So why fret in Florida? Since 2002 the EAB has sprinted across most of the Midwest into Canada, some western states, New England, and as far south as central Georgia.   Here it comes.   Does a warm climate protect us? Probably not much, as the beetles live in even hotter Asian locales.

The USDA lists parts of Palm Beach County along with most of Florida as at risk. Does the fact that White Ash has a limited Florida distribution protect us? Not so much: the EAB reportedly can get into any species of ash. We have three in the sunshine state, including in our immediate area, even in my back yard. And to add angst, the bugs have broadened the attack to fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus). Florida has that species plus the endangered endemic pygmy fringe tree (C. pygmaeus), and several more members of the Olive Family, including the ubiquitous Swamp Privets (Forestiera species).

ashes, ashes...all fall down

ashes, ashes…all fall down

Sure do hope that nobody reading or writing this post spots the first Emerald Ash Borer in Florida.

A sea creature?  No, Valeriana uliginosa in a Michagan fen.

A sea creature? No, Valerian in a Michigan fen.


Note: Forgive me for using the same post in both of my blogs.


Posted by on July 3, 2015 in Uncategorized



5 responses to “2002 Was a Bad Year for the Lorax

  1. Bill Grow

    July 3, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    I just spent a week “down east” on the coast of Maine and did see many white ash trees. Though there were stumps in front of many homes. Wish I had been aware and could have asked what kind they were. I was studying lichens at a place called Eagle Hill Institute and did get some lichens from ash trees. Instructor said that those stumps had been some of the best collecting trees and had only recently been lost. And, there were ash trees in the area.

    • George Rogers

      July 4, 2015 at 10:22 am

      Thanks Bill. Must have been nice looking at lichens in Maine. Seems maybe Maine might be fairly recent invasion? I don’t know, but there are lots of data on-line re. when the EAB hit where.

  2. theshrubqueen

    July 4, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I was in Atlanta last week (botanizing?)looking at Ambrosia beetle damage to old Oaks (Red and White) Do you think it helps the forest to get rid of the infested trees?
    Another kooky, but related question-Dunston Chestnuts, thumbs up or down?

  3. George Rogers

    July 4, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Amelia, Thanks for commenting…though I don’t have enough knowledge to have strong opinions on either matter. I’d bet the oak question has so many factors “it probably depends.” We need somebody who knows what they’re talking about on that on that one! From a totally utterly ignorant standpoint, does it help to get the kid with the flu out of the classroom.? Maybe, on the general principle of infested trees probably generate beetles to go bother other trees, or could it be that by the time the problem is manifest it is too late to justify such an enormous effort?…that the varmints are established and you can’t get on top of the infestation, that removing trees from forest A allows reinvasion from nearby forest B like bailing water out of a well. This is where I’d suspect some “ifs” come into play, but I’m rattling on with no knowledge whatsoever.

    Have you noticed that people who don’t know what they are talking about tend either toward overly concise simplistic answers, or overly convoluted rambles? This is the latter.

    The D-chestnut is fascinating, especially because I’ve spent a lot of time around old American C-nut stumps, hopeful stump sprouts, and a few fruiting trees. (My parents lived near Asheville NC). What I find most noteworthy is that it is an example of an unusual situation…an Old World/New World hybrid. The sister-species relationship between eastern NA and eastern Asia is biologically famous…alligators for instance. Generally the Asian species and their US doppelgangers are not 100% identical, not the same species but close. That sometimes if you bring them together and they can hybridize effectively is quite a phenomenon. The London planetree is another example.

  4. theshrubqueen

    July 4, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Wow! quite a ramble. My experience with Pine Bark Beetles has been if you get rid of the infested trees the problem goes away and I have seen the A beetles travel through a stand of White Oaks which is heartbreaking. A dilemma we have!

    I think everyone I have met who ate a Chinese Chestnut said they were terrible and the tree should be considered an ornamental. It will be interesting to try the D-nut.


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