On the Lookout: Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Parks

On the Lookout: Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Parks

Friends, Pittsburghers, park enthusiasts, lend us your eyeballs.

There’s a Pennsylvania-wide game of nature “Where’s Waldo?” happening right now, and we invite you to play along. Rather than searching for a man in a red-and-white striped getup, though, we’re all keeping our eyes peeled for the white-and-black striped Asian longhorned beetle.

Have you seen Bug Eyes here? Photo: “5 Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) Chewing Egg Site” by U.S. Department of Agriculture. Used under CC by 2.0/modified from original.

What is the Asian longhorned beetle?

An invasive, or non-native, species of beetle originally from Korea, China, and Japan, the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) migrated to the United States sometime in the 1990’s as a stowaway in shipping pallets. Since then, slowly but steadily, the insect has really sunk its mandibles into U.S. forests.

Part of what makes the Asian longhorned beetle such a large threat is its diet. A pickier eater would be more predictable: If it loved just one particular tree, we would know to monitor that tree type and watch for infestation. However, even though ALB is partial to red maples, it will make do with a wide range of host tree species: horsechestnuts, buckeyes, birches, planes, sycamores, willows, elms, boxelders, and other maples.

Once it finds a tree to inhabit, females burrow under the bark to lay eggs. After hatching, larva burrow throughout the tree to feed on the tree’s sugars and nutrients, eventually killing its leafy host. ALB is also a significant threat because it doesn’t respond to any known biological or chemical controls; once it infests a tree, that tree must be removed.

The stories of ALB infestation can be heart-wrenching. But, even though ALB has been found in surrounding Ohio, New Jersey, and New York, we don’t think it has found its way to Penn’s Woods quite yet. And that gives us a lot of hope.

Early detection

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This week, a grouping of exceptionally knowledgeable arborists and naturalists (plus a few of us amateurs) busted out binoculars for an Urban EcoSteward training on spotting signs of the Asian longhorned beetle in Frick Park. Many a success story (such as the oak wilt trees in Schenley Park) of invasive insect/plant and disease eradication starts with an alert citizen speaking up when they see an issue.

And here’s where we need your help!

The more people on the lookout for ALB, the better the chances of spotting this unwanted visitor before thousands of our street and park trees are threatened. Keep a sharp eye out for these signs:

  • Chomp marks. Mature Asian longhorned beetles have a distinct way of dining. They love eating the veins of leaves, as well as the bark of young twigs. Infestations typically start from the apex of the tree, so check for easy-to-spot dead/dying leaves at the top of the tree.
  • Exit holes. Adult beetles exit the tree by burrowing. Check tree trunks for perfectly round holes, usually smaller than a dime.
  • Frass. Beetle burrowing can leave behind a sawdust, or frass, pile.
  • The actual beetle. About .75 – 1.25 inches long, the adult beetle is black with irregular white spots on the wing covers. They have distinct black and white antennae that are longer than their body. Blue hairs on their legs can give them a bluish tinge.
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Exit holes are about the circumference of a dime. Photo: “Damage exit hole egg site” by U.S. Department of Agriculture. Used under CC by 2.0.

Now for the most important part: If you see something, say something. Even if you’re not 100 percent sure of what you’ve found, snap a photo. If possible, catch the beetle in a jar or a box. Then, report your sighting by calling the PA Department of Agriculture at 1-866-253-7189 or by emailing them at badbug@state.pa.us. If signs are spotted in the parks, please also let us know at info@pittsburghparks.org.

We’re not all doom and gloom over the Asian longhorned beetle (see photo below as proof). With watchful eyes and this week’s launch of the Park Tree Fund, we’re working hard to keep our park trees safe.

Much of the information from this blog was found through the University of Vermont’s stellar ALB resource pages. Read much more information about ALB here

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting in extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Working It: Workplace Volunteer Days

Working It: Workplace Volunteer Days

Are you looking for some different conversation starters around the water cooler? Need more excuses to give coworkers high fives? Love team building? Then ditch the after-work happy hour and get your office mates out to a volunteer day in the parks!

They say that a family that plays together, stays together. We like to say that coworkers that plant trees, pull invasive plants, and pick up trash in the parks together, stay together. In June, we had an incredible number of corporate and community groups — 18 to be exact — get gloved up and contribute over 750 volunteer hours in the parks. Here’s how much they rocked:

Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are tough. Our volunteers are 10 times tougher. Groups in June pulled almost 30 bags of garlic mustard, 23 bags of Mile-a-minute vines, and some burdock and mugwort to boot.

Top: Public Allies saving a young tree from an invasive vine in Frick Park. Bottom left: Mullen volunteer wearing a shirt that says “invasive plants beware” pulling garlic mustard. Bottom right: A young SCA volunteer cutting invasive vines in South Side Park (photo credit: SCA)

Trees and plantings

Just uphill from Bartlett Playground, the Schenley Park oak wilt site is on the road to recovery. Volunteers from SDLC Partners trudged right into the mud to get some new trees in the ground to aid this site’s gradual restoration — and had a ball.

Last month, volunteer groups planted almost 450 annuals and herbaceous plants and 59 new trees and shrubs in the parks. Additionally, over 200 pots of native wildflowers were transplanted to keep them safe during the construction of the new Frick Environmental Center.

Top: SDLC volunteers yukking it up in front of a newly planted tree. Bottom left: SDLC volunteers making a hole for a tree in thick mud. Bottom right: Public Allies fence trees in Frick Park.

Weed whackers

Caring for the multitude of park gardens is no easy task. Thanks to the many volunteer hours spent deadheading, weeding, mulching, and watering, we’re able to keep these public gardens looking stellar. Last month, Schenley Plaza, Mellon Park Walled Garden, Highland Park Entry Garden, and Bartlett Playground were all given lots of love by our volunteer groups.

Top right: Duquesne students and Hill District residents plant more than a hundred annuals. Left and bottom right: American Eagle Better World volunteers care for Mellon Park.

Team building

We have a blast working with so many mighty, enthusiastic volunteer groups. And we think that all of the big smiles that we see during and after the day are a pretty good sign that they’re enjoying their time in the parks, too.

Thanks to IDL Worldwide,  Weslyen Charities, AmeriCorps NCCC, Landslide Farm, Mama Africa’s Green Scouts, Navy, Bidwell, Pittsburgh Botanical Society, SCA, South Side Neighborhood Association, American Eagle, Aon, AIG, SDLC Partners, Duquesne University, Public Allies, Highland Park Garden Club, and Mullen for being such fantastic volunteers!

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Itching to get your corporate, community, or religious group out into the parks for a volunteer day? Reach out to us at volunteer@pittsburghparks.org to set up a date for this fall!

Jake Baechle, Volunteer Coordinator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Walking on the Wild Side: Wildflowers in the Parks

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
Lady Bird Johnson

Have you noticed the parks’ coltsfoot, twinleaf, and Dutchman’s breeches looking especially radiant this week? Don’t think that it’s just the rain that we’ve been enjoying lately. They’re looking extra fine because it’s National Wildflower Week!

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Violets doing what they do best.

Our region’s natural landscape is quite unique, you know. Down to the smallest Heartleaf foamflowers, we’re able to enjoy everything that grows here thanks to our region’s particular climate (hypothermic winter temperatures included).

Right this very moment, spring ephemerals (plants that bloom only for a short time, usually when they have the advantage of full light before tree leaves start to open) are in their full glory. And out to appreciate this tiny rainbow of colors this week were community members at the annual Urban EcoSteward Wildflower Walk in Frick Park.

Couldn’t make it? Read on for the highlights and join us for another wildflower show this month!

Wild walks

What do you notice as you walk through the parks? The trees? The pathway? The thousands of little blooms now peppered between the trees?

Just a stone’s throw from the water fountain on the trails by the old Frick Environmental Center, we were amazed to find a dozen or more different flower varieties — some of them completely hidden by overhanging leaves — right in front of us. The 40 or so adults and children split up into three groups with Parks Conservancy naturalist educators and Urban EcoSteward walk leaders. Together, they all played a huge game of “Where’s Waldo?”, spotting the colorful wildflowers along and between the path.

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Christmas ferns starting to unfurl.

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Bluebells just starting to flare out, a bit past their prime.

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Kids and adults walking the trails to find wildflowers.

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Two kids with Naturalist Educator Mike spot some squaw root aka bear corn.

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Squawroot, otherwise known as bear corn.

Digging in

After becoming experts on bellwort, woodland phlox, and trillium, everyone grabbed some gloves and shovels and went to work. In anticipation of the brand new Frick Environmental Center, wildflowers and trees in the vicinity of the new building have been flagged. These flags aren’t marking what will be removed — they’re marking what will be preserved.

Everyone — kids and adults alike — helped to move marked wildflowers from the building areas to a safe spot further up the trail. Families and neighbors worked together to carry burlap bags with the flowers on top to safe ground before being watered.

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Bellwort, bluebells, and an orange preservation marker.

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Working together to replant some bluebells.

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Moving some wildflowers to their new home.

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Nobody works alone!

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Watering the newly planted wildflowers.

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Happily replanted Heartland foamflowers.

New to wildflower spotting? You can pick up a very helpful Newcomb or Audubon guide from your local library! These handy books are broken up into flower shapes, sizes, and colors, making identification easy.

While a good number of plants were relocated at the Wildflower Walk, we need help moving the rest of the bunch before Frick Environmental Center construction gets underway. Register here to volunteer to replant wildflowers this month with us!

Programming like the annual Wildflower Walk is free and open to the public. And did we mention… fun!? Don’t miss our next outing, the Urban EcoSteward Summer Gathering. Click here to sign up.

 

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Volunteer Spotlight: The Keeper of Mellon Park

Standing at the junction of four neighborhoods is one man who scares the thistles off of invasive plants.

“That over there is Garlic Mustard Heaven… at least, it was,” points out John Olmsted, Shadyside neighbor and volunteer extraordinaire, triumphantly. He’s taking three Parks Conservancy staffers on a personal tour of Mellon Park, showing us the spots he knows like his own backyard and telling us about how he came to have such an impact on the park.

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“John is definitely the keeper of this park.”

Angela, Parks Conservancy horticulturist, has pulled weeds alongside John for years. After moving around post graduate school, John and his wife returned to Pittsburgh to be closer to children and grandchildren. And he has since become a quiet but significant change-maker in this historic community park.

IMG_1738Mellon Park, situated at the junction of Regent Square, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze has never been adopted entirely by one group over the years. This setup has made for some interesting development throughout the grounds: The Parks Conservancy restored the serene Walled Garden as a Capitol Project; Phipps houses a greenhouse and has experimental show gardens around the grounds; groups like the Herb Society handle particular plots, such as the Shakespeare Garden; and a number of community members take other small plots in their own garden-gloved hands when they have the time.

That’s where John comes in. After moving to the perfect house just across the street from Mellon, John made his way over to the park during his free time, pulling some invasive plants here and there until, five years later, he’s tackling whole beds. “So far, none of the maintenance people have complained that I’m taking work away from them,” he jokes. With only a bit of previous gardening experience (John’s father grew a victory garden during WWII, his mother had a garden of her own), John first tackled whole sections of garlic mustard and Canada thistle from established daffodil and daylily gardens — and then kept them cleared.

We especially appreciate John’s story of dedication to Mellon Park because 17 years ago, that same drive inspired the creation of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Faced with the deteriorating conditions of the parks, a cadre of concerned Pittsburghers decided to start an organization to work towards maintenance and restoration of the parks. John, too, has stepped up to fill a need to keep the greenspaces he appreciates in really fantastic condition.

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Daffodils peeking through the soil in the beds John tends

 

As we stroll through the park with John, we give him all the kudos we can for his work in Mellon Park. He’ll be out there again this spring, whacking away at the weeds that creep up in the daffodil beds. He has a standing offer to anyone that wants to join him on his crusade to bust burdock.

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Wondering about the name? John is indeed connected to the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. “Four generations back and four steps over,” as he says.

Daffodils like those pictured above will be welcoming Spring soon. Support our efforts to keep these gardens growing by contributing to the Daffodil Project.

Never an Off Season

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Dogwood on ice (photo by Taiji Nelson)

For many park users, the wooded trails they know and love during the spring, summer and fall are out of their minds from December to March. Long, lazy hikes seem like a distant memory. So when I tell people that I’m an environmental educator they often ask “how do you keep yourself busy in the winter?” My typical response is that I finally have a chance to get around to all of the projects and e-mails that have fallen to the bottom of my checklist.  It’s a time to regroup, catch my breath and prepare for the storm of back-to-back programs, busloads of excited students and constantly changing plans in our active seasons. To the outside world all seems quiet, but internally, the winter is by no means a time for hibernation for Pittsburgh Conservancy’s environmental educators. Plenty of planning, preparation and anticipation always preclude the crazy rush of school programs, volunteer days and summer camps.

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Students study a promethea moth cocoon (photo courtesy The Ellis School)

Similarly, to the unknowing eye, it could look like winter is the off-season for nature. Many woodland animals spend months storing energy as fat, before they migrate or enter torpor (a state of lowered activity and body temperature) for winter. Plants also spend much of their year storing energy in the form of sugars in their roots, stems, and buds before going dormant. On winter hikes, we tell our students that the trees around them aren’t dead, they’re waiting.

The plants and animals who stored energy weren’t just working to survive winter, they were also planning ahead to make a strong start in spring when the competition is fierce. The increase in sunlight, temperature and water in spring is like a starting gun at the beginning of a race. Right now, outside, something amazing is about to happen as the ground thaws. Plants and animals are stirring and patiently at the ready. Soon, buds will burst and eggs will hatch. A new year and life for some is about to begin.

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Our education staff hiking at the PAEE conference (photo by Taiji Nelson)

At the Parks Conservancy, our education team has also been preparing for spring. Our reach continues to grow as six new schools have signed up to participate through our K-12 programs this year. We’ll share outdoor experiences and adventures with hundreds of students from a diverse range of schools, as well as through family programs, like Earth Day and summer camps. We’ve hired and trained a passionate and talented crew of seasonal educators to use best-practices to connect children with nature through observation, exploration, inquiry and restoration. We’ve developed new programs and partnerships while making tweaks to improve our existing programs. At the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators Conference, our staff gained skills from expert naturalists and educators while sharing our own knowledge about connecting with nature in cities.

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Lydia, long-time Frick Environmental Center educator, now a Naturalist Educator with the Parks Conservancy

The most exciting winter development for me was the merger of the Frick Environmental Center and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Our two organizations have been jointly running programs for the past few years, but by moving into the same office space and working side-by-side every day, I’ve gotten to know their personalities and talents. We’ve inherited an outstanding staff and a legacy of excellent programming.  When construction of the new Frick Environmental Center is completed, our staff, programs, and facilities will be the best they’ve ever been. We’re ready and waiting for this spring and beyond.

Taiji Nelson, Naturalist Educator at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

A Race with the Red Queen

No disrespect to the ancients, but the best time to plant a tree was not 20 years ago. It might be this spring.

A variety of leaves from trees planted last fall in Highland Park. Photo by Taiji Nelson.

Whether plant, animal, virus, or bacteria, all living organisms are locked in battle with the pathogens, pests and parasites in their surrounding environment, using the tools and tricks nature’s equipped them with to keep them in the game. One of the strongest tools in this arsenal? The ability to adapt, to one-up opponents in a constant arms race.

One huge task that the Parks Conservancy faces is shoring up this arsenal for the trees in our care. The founders of these fine parks left quite the legacy, not only in the consideration that they gave to the design and experience of the parks, but also the impressive diversity of the urban forests.

It’s tough to overstate the importance of biodiversity to healthy parks. Voracious pests and sneaky diseases gain a slight foothold within the bounds of our parklands and spread like wildfire, faster than we can catch and quarantine them — even with sharp eyes out at all times. Our trees need their natural defenses as they stand on the front lines of these attacks, especially since they face added stresses of living in the city: polluted water, poor air quality, micro-climates, and human intervention.

London plane tree in Schenley Plaza.

A general in this battle, the Parks Conservancy’s Director of Park Management and Maintenance Phil Gruszka is a seasoned veteran. Phil has been rocking war paint for years now. Since conducting a study with Dr. Cynthia Morton of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, he’s realized that our legacy park trees are impressive in their biodiversity… but that we have to really work to keep it that way. Their study found that tree stock from major nurseries across the country have actually been whittling down the tree gene pool.

“When London plane trees were first introduced to the United States, one nursery had a tree that did very well. But they couldn’t get it to reproduce from seed, so they started getting cuttings to grow out. Then they released it to the trade and named that cultivar ‘Bloodgood.'”

Selected for it’s superior resistance to the fungus anthracnose, the cultivar (a plant chosen for its particular genetic makeup) Bloodgood has been spread around now for about 30 years, dominating nursery stock of London planes. Plane trees bought from nurseries have identical genetic material to every other plane tree — they have not been grown from seed from two parent trees. They’re clones.

“Today, if I wanted to replace a London plane, I can only buy the cultivar Bloodgood.”

But trees from Schenley Plaza and around the park surprised them. “The Schenley Plaza trees were all genetically different, very diverse.” The park trees, planted before Bloodgood started to gain popularity, were much more diverse than the current nursery stock. The surviving 100, of the 200 that were planted years ago, were of a strong and diverse population, toughened from years of fighting off pests and disease.

Then, they widened their net. Was this true only for London planes? How much more diverse are our park trees than trees sold around the country? After polling nurseries from various parts of the country, they found that ten common trees used all over the U.S. were clones — their genetic diversity was actually getting less and less diverse.

Red oaks with oak wilt in Schenley Park, soon to be cleared.

Why has this study been so important? As the Parks Conservancy has taken on ecological restoration projects in the parks over the years and established the Park Tree Action Plan with the City of Pittsburgh, TreeVitalize, and Tree Pittsburgh, we’ve actively worked to increase biodiversity in the parks. Taking cuttings of our own heterogeneous tree stock, we’ve started growing new trees around the park and city in our own sort of diversity study, learning as we go about resistant new cuttings that withstand biological threats. This knowledge gives us only a peek at the immeasurable value of Pittsburgh’s parks; less mature forests and parks elsewhere are markedly more homogeneous, posing a threat to themselves and surrounding forests against the pests and diseases that have shown an uptick in recent years. Our trees are better equipped to keep our parks healthy and beautiful.

This week, a large stand of red oaks — about 50 trees in total — will be cleared from Prospect Drive in Schenley Park. Oak wilt, discovered earlier this year by an observant park user, got a stranglehold on the interlocking root system of the trees, infecting an entire grouping of trees. Left there, the trees are a risk to the health of other park trees. It’s terrible to have to take down so many trees, but it’s something that needs done for the overall well being of the park. And when these trees are replanted in the spring, a variety of new and diverse tree stock will be added to the expanding biodiversity and health of the park.

Wondering about the title of this post? Read more about the Red Queen Effect here.