Paying For A Mild Winter

by Curt Kovener

If you have a yellow poplar—what is sometimes called a tulip tree—in your yard you perhaps have noticed. Understory plants have a shiny glaze to them. Maybe your car has a tiny spots if you parked it near the tree or if you have a deck of patio, it is developing a dark sticky surface.
That’s compliments of the newest problem woodland insect: the tulip tree scale insect. It is a tiny little critter that looks like a small bump on the bark of smaller branches and it is literally sucking the lifeblood from our state tree.
It chews a hole just under the bark and begins dining on the tree’s sap. Then it excretes a sticky substance called “honeydew” which is eaten by some other insects… primarily ants.
The tulip tree scale insect is not a new insect to the Hoosier woods. But the light winter we enjoyed didn’t kill them in sufficient numbers and now they are back in considerably larger numbers causing possible terminal damage to a number of our hard woods.
State tree specialists say that the stress of losing so much sap could kill some poplars.
They can be treated but it is too late for this year and treatment-a ground injected systemic insecticide-could cost up to $500 per tree.
DNR Forestry officials have said that the recent mild winter has developed into a blessing and a curse for Hoosiers. We all appreciated the smaller than normal heating bills for our homes, but the mild temperatures also allowed more and earlier attacks by insects which invade trees.
The Emerald Ash Borer began its ultimately deadly work earlier this year. So far no evidence of EAB has been found in Jackson County though most counties around us already had EAB quarantines.
And though this area is a little out of the range of hemlock trees there are some that have been planted for yard landscaping. The Hemlock Wooly Adeldig (a-DELL-jid) is another sap-sucking insect which is killing hemlocks in Kentucky. A northern Indiana tree has been diagnosed with the invasive insect.
While Hoosiers enjoyed a mild winter, if it was a part of the incremental adjustments caused by climate change, perhaps our worry over melting icecaps causing flooding and unbearable temperature extremes is misplaced.
Perhaps the greater impact of climate change will be just a few degrees to allow insects and so far other unknowns a greater foothold to destroy trees and plants.
Which will ultimately destroy us.