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PRESERVE THE HEMLOCKS

A tiny, sucking insect is decimating Hemlock stands from New England to Georgia and South Carolina.

Eastern hemlock trees are some of the largest and most common trees in the region. They play an ecologically vital role in cooling mountain streams and providing habitat for many other species. Unfortunately, they are under attack from a non-native insect called the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae). Without successful intervention, the infestation is likely to kill most of the Hemlock trees in the park.

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Dead Hemlocks
Called the “redwood of the east,” Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) can grow more than 150 feet tall on trunks measuring six feet in diameter. Some hemlocks in the park are over 500 years old.
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Since its arrival in the U.S. in the 1920s the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has rapidly colonized parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, where it feeds on the Eastern Hemlock. In the south, it also feeds on Carolina Hemlock. The insect is easily dispersed by birds and wind, but travels most rapidly as a hitchhiker on infested horticultural material.

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has infested hemlocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway for about ten years; as many as 80 percent of the Hemlocks here have died due to infestation. The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is an aphid-like insect that covers itself with a white, waxy “wool” which acts as a protective coating for the insect. Adelgid infestations are easily recognizable by the appearance of tiny “cotton balls” at the base of hemlock needles. The “wool” is most conspicuous on the undersides of branches from fall through spring.

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The National Park Service (NPS) is working to eradicate the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid through research, development of biological controls and chemical soil treatments.

  • Foliar Treatments – Hemlocks in developed areas and sites accessible by road are treated with insecticidal soap or horticultural oils. Sprayed from truck-mounted spray units, these sprays smother and dry out the Adelgids on contact. The equipment can spray up to 80 feet into the canopy of large roadside trees and can efficiently treat areas of smaller trees. However this method kills only the insects that are present at application and requires re-treatment every six to twelve months.
  • Systemic Treatments – Hemlocks that are growing off-trail in the park’s forests or are too tall to be sprayed are treated with a systemic insecticide (imidacloprid) either by soil drenching or by injecting the insecticide directly into the trunk. Imidacloprid is the active ingredient found in tick and flea medication for dogs. Soil drenching involves temporarily removing the duff-a-layer of organic matter-from around the base of the tree then pouring a mixture of imidacloprid and water on the bare ground around the tree within a foot of the trunk. The duff layer is then replaced. The results of insecticidal treatments have been dramatic. Trees with ashen gray foliage prior to treatment recover their color and produce new growth. Treatments may remain effective for up to five years.
  • Predator Beetles – The park began releasing predatory beetles that feed exclusively on Adelgids as a biocontrol in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2002. It will take years before populations of beetles increase enough to naturally control Adelgid infestations. By 2011, the park had released over half a million beetles. Although it is too early to assess the overall success of this biocontrol, preliminary monitoring results are encouraging.
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