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[FLM JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2012] Land of the Tall Ghosts
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 Land of the Tall Ghosts

By Erin Mester

Forest Landowners Magazine January/February 2012


Over the Past 50 years, because of the effects of insect and air pollution, over 94% of mature Fraser fir trees have been killed, leaving behind even more tall "ghosts" on the highest mountain peaks of the Appalachians 
Call them one of America’s most wanted invasive pests: the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA).  After arriving here from Asia in the early 1950s, these pesky aphid-like insects have devoured their way through millions of hemlock trees and left a trail  of tall “ghosts” through the forest.  Hemlocks grow throughout the Appalachians where some trees are more than 400 years old and grow as tall as 175 feet and 6 feet in diameter.  Hemlocks may live more than 800 years and thrive in shade where their thick, evergreen foliage helps maintain moderate temperatures and moisture on the forest floor as well as provide numerous habitats for wildlife. HWA have been steadily spreading throughout the hemlock range into some of the largest and oldest stands in the Appalachians and are killing eastern and Carolina hemlocks all within only a few years of initial infestation.


Just as wanted on America’s invasive pest list is HWA’s evil stepsister, the balsam woolly adelgid (BWA).  


It is presumed that BWA was accidentally introduced to the US on infested nursery stock from central Europe in the early 1900’s. This pesky relative causes significant damage to true fir forests in the eastern and pacific northwestern areas of the United States.


 In the southeastern US, BWA specifically infest Fraser firs and in the past four decades, the adelgid has spread to every fir stand in the southern Appalachians.


 Like hemlocks, Fraser firs have a certain mystical quality to them. A high elevation sub-alpine species poised in the mist, Fraser fir can live for 150 years and are not only important for their scenic beauty, but also for providing a home for special creatures like the flying squirrel and the spruce-fir moss spider.

 Over the past 50 years, because of the effects of this insect and the effects of increasing air pollution, over 95% of mature Fraser fir trees have been killed, leaving behind even more tall “ghosts” on the highest mountain peaks of the Appalachians.

Gentle Giants

Fraser fir is among the most popular Christmas tree in North America, and the Christmas tree industry provides an important  economic resource for mountain communities.  

The North Carolina Christmas tree industry is the second largest in the country and in NC alone, there are 50 million Fraser fir trees  growing on over 25,000 acres, providing annual cash receipts of well over $100 million for trees, wreaths, ropes, and greenery.  

Virtually all Fraser fir Christmas trees require treatment for  BWA one or more times during a five to ten year rotation and  chemical insecticides are currently the only successful way  for controlling the adelgid but it can be very costly and time  consuming.  

The Christmas tree industry spends $1.5 million  annually on BWA and the use of these pesticides minimizes the  effectiveness of Integrated Pest Management strategies. 

A couple of PhD students in the forest entomology lab at  NCSU are researching host resistance against the adelgids in  hemlock and fir trees.  Kelly Oten is researching ways hemlocks  react to HWA with the hope of developing HWA-resistant  



2013 Volume 72:

May/ June 2013

March/April 2013
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2012 Volume 71:

Nov/Dec 2012

Sept/Oct 2012

July/Aug 2012
May/June 2012
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2012 Volume 70:
Jan/Feb 2012






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