Bah humbug: Insects from Christmas trees destroying WA forests

Dec 19, 2022, 9:33 AM
An invasive species may be working its way into Washington’s lush evergreen forests through your holiday greenery. (Photo from the Department of Ecology)
(Photo from the Department of Ecology)

An invasive species may be working its way into Washington’s lush evergreen forests through your holiday greenery.

Plant protection officials with the Washington State Department of Ecology have issued a public advisory for you to check any purchased real Christmas trees, wreaths, or other holiday greenery for signs of Elongate Hemlock Scale (EHS), also known as Fiorinia Externa.

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It’s an insect found in some states in the Northeast, and it can cause extreme damage to native evergreen trees here in Washington.

The insect is believed to have come to the United States from Japan. It was first seen in New York City back in 1908. The last time it was found in Washington state was in 2019 on Christmas trees brought in from North Carolina.

The pest is described as a flattened, oval-shaped insect that’s light yellow-brown to brownish-orange with a waxy cover. It’s on the underside of needles and in some cases, can be so prevalent on a bough, that it makes the backside of needles appear white in color.

“Everyone can keep an eye out for species they don’t recognize or symptoms of damage and report what they find,” said Sven-Erik Spichiger, WSDA’s managing entomologist. “We need the public’s help to quickly detect and respond to newly introduced invasive species before they get out of hand.”

If you find evidence of EHS on your holiday greenery, you are asked to dispose of it immediately. Officials recommend cutting it up, double-bagging the pieces, and disposing of the bags in your regular trash pickup.

Then, email photos of the infestation and share them, along with information about where you bought it, to agr.wa.gov.

“Proper disposal goes a long way in preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species that could hurt our environment and cause millions of dollars in damage to our economy,” said Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council. “Do your part to protect the state you love.”

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Bah humbug: Insects from Christmas trees destroying WA forests