Tales of invaders overwhelming and displacing locals repeats throughout history — change the continent, species and timeline but the story is the same. Locals here tell the tale of the mighty American Chestnut tree decimated by an imported Asian fungus. Now a new version of this same old story has breached the boundaries of Watauga county and another is on its way.

In June, the Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis, was identified in Watauga County. First observed in Michigan in 2002, the Emerald Ash Borer has made its way across the upper Midwest, North and Southeast decimating millions of ash trees in its path.

Female borers lay their eggs in tree bark crevices. Two weeks later when the larvae hatch, they begin chewing their way down through the bark making their way beneath the tree’s outer bark and inner cambium, thereby disrupting the tree’s ability to move water and nutrients along its trunk. When the larvae reach maturity, they gnaw their way out, leaving distinctive D-shaped holes in the trunk. Infestation often results in sudden dieback of a section of branches.

It can be difficult to successfully treat trees that have sustained damage to more than 50 percent of their canopy. As there are treatments available to stave off infestations or treat trees with minimal damage, homeowners should contact a certified arborist to develop a treatment plan.

If, however, you are unsure but suspect your ash trees might be infected with emerald ash borers contact James Hall, Watauga County Ranger with the N.C. Forest Service at the Boone office, (828) 265-5375 for an assessment.

Perhaps more frightening is another Asian invader heading our way — the Spotted Lanternfly, Lycoma delicatula. First detected in Pennsylvania in 2014, it has been reported in Virginia, and experts feel it is just a matter of time before it arrives in North Carolina. This pest attacks up to 70 different plant species and is especially fond of crops grown across our region — grapes, stone fruits, and apples.

Lanternflies, feeding on plants’ sap, excrete a sticky ooze, euphemistically referred to as “honeydew.” This “honeydew” feeds mold spores resulting in dark, sooty stains that block out the sunlight, inhibit photosynthesis and eventually starve the infected plant. The sugary honeydew can also attract annoying wasps, gnats and other insects.

Perhaps more troubling is that the laternfly lays its mats of grey eggs on any nearby surface including, plants, buildings and vehicles. While infected areas are under quarantine, it’s only a matter of time before a lanternfly will lay its eggs under some vehicle, that hits the highway, and arrives in a parking lot near us.

When the eggs are first laid in October, they resemble mats of shiny wet cement; upon drying they can be mistaken for a glob of mud. I’ve included photos here, but it’s hard to discern the egg mat from the tree trunks pictured. You’ll find additional information and photos at: gardening.ces.ncsu.edu/spotted-lanternfly-resource-page/.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has assigned Chad Taylor as the Plant Pest Specialist for the western region. If you feel you may have detected adult laternflies, or more importantly an egg mat, call Taylor at (336) 466-0478; also try to take photos and send them to his office at newpest@ncagr.gov.

I’m reminded of a quote from Oliver Morton in “The Planet Remade” for our penitence for moving ourselves and anything else around the globe: “Humans have become so powerful that they have become a force of nature — and forces of nature are by definition those things beyond the power of humans to control.”

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com.

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