Forty years ago, when our home was built, we planted a row of small hemlock trees.
We knew they would grow and be beautiful, help prevent erosion, and make homes for wild life and birds. And this they did. They grew to be forty feet tall, their evergreen branches sweeping over a wide area and they formed the ideal wind break for our home which sits on top of a hillside.
I never really gave much thought to their well-being. After all, hemlock is our state tree, chosen because our early settlers preferred the hemlock for building cabins. Hemlocks have always been with us, contributing to our ecosystem and to the beauty of Pennsylvania’s country-side. In 1900 our chestnut tees were annihilated by a blight, and no longer grace our countryside. Will our hemlocks go the same way? Then came the word: “Our Hemlocks Are Dying!” and with time, I realized that this was indeed true.
Tiny, piercing, sucking insects, unseen by the naked eye, attaches themselves to the trees’ needles, one at a time and inhibits twig growth. One needle at a time may sound impossible until one understands that this insect, a native of Asia, reproduces by the millions. Sucking the sap from the tree’s needles weakens it until it succumbs to drought stress or to other insects and diseases. They say that bitter cold weather sometimes helps but the past winter we didn’t have that. What can be done to stop this? The use of insecticides may help a homeowner save a tree, soil pesticides is a possibility as long as it’s not used near waterways. However, no huge tree saving project is underway and there is the potential to kill most of the region’s hemlock trees within the next decade. At this time, more than fifty percent are impacted.
I walk to the row of trees we cherish and see where the devastation has started at the base of the trees and is moving upward. I feel like the person who can do nothing as they watch a loved one die. Perhaps the comparison is rather extreme, but the result is the same, death is certain. It has been suggested that fungi be used or certain insects as predators like lady bugs. The spring-time lady bug invasions we experience in our homes is proof that this has been tried before in other projects. It’s been said that in time a solution will be found, but will it be in time?
Some may laugh when I tell you that I pray for our hemlock trees. That’s what I do when I feel helpless and hopeless. I do not expect that God will save our trees, but it is He that gives man the ability and know-how to find solutions to such dilemmas. He may have already done that. In Maryland the “Hemlock Seed Project” is underway. People are collecting cones from still-living trees. The cones contain the seeds which the state nursery will plant and the hemlock seedlings then will be treated with insecticides that will not affect any growth near them, but will allow the hemlock trees to thrive again. To God be the glory.