The Christmas trees inside many a home this season were likely sprayed with an expensive insecticide so that it could be available for your trimming. Wild growing Canaan and Fraser firs in recent years are not so lucky and are being decimated by an invasive insect.
The Balsam woolly adelgid is decimating native, wild fir populations in the United States. (Image source: National Forest Service)
According to the Washington Post, Canaan and Fraser firs growing in the wild, outside of tree farms' protective watch, have been the target of the what's being called “the bug that ate Christmas.”
The balsam woolly adelgid, a wingless insect that essentially sucks nutrients from the tree and imparts toxins that cause other issues, according to the National Forest Service, likely came from Europe in the early 1900s and spread across the country by the mid-1950s.
All species are females that reproduce asexually, and they don't have natural predators, according to the Post.
"Gouting" is the most common symptom expressed by trees under attack by the adelgid.
"It appears as stunting of the terminal growth with distinct swellings around the buds and branch nodes," the forest service's fact sheet read.
But other signs, according to the Post, include the waxy looking eggs covering the trees.
“We’ve seen a tremendous decline," Mike Powell with Nature Conservancy told the Post of the trees. “We’re concerned that it’ll decline to the point that you’ll only see it on tree farms. These trees will survive on tree farms, but in the wild . . . we could lose that tree.”
Tree farms spend a lot of time and money to ensure their trees are not impacted by the invasive creature:
People who buy Christmas trees at farms need not worry. Farmers who grow Christmas trees control the pest with a potent and costly insecticide, two-man crews spraying one to two acres a day. They work with agricultural extension agents to develop the most efficient pest management strategy because, said Rick Dungey of the National Christmas Tree Association, “it’s very expensive.”
In addition to this invasive predatory, Christmas trees have also had to battle root rot in recent years as well. Phytophthora root rot, a water mold, impacts both farmed and wild Christmas trees alike.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that, if not contained, the root rot organism could cost the nation's top Christmas tree producing states, Oregon and North Carolina, $304 million and $6 million each year, respectively.
In this Nov. 16, 2013 photo, tree farmer Jeff Pollard inspects a Turkish fir seedling on one of his farms in Bakersville, N.C. Pollard has been growing Fraser fir for nearly 40 years, but a root-rotting mold has him looking to the Turkish species to help save his family farm. (AP/Allen G. Breed)
With the threat of this mold, some Fraser fir farmers are switching to growing Turkish and Nordmann firs instead, according to the AP.