It is with heavy heart and grumpy mind that I must announce that Asian longhorned beetles have reached Boston. According to this Boston Globe report, they have been found on six trees on the grounds of Faulkner Hospital. The good news is that these trees all appear to have come from the same nursery, WBZ reports, so it may not have spread… yet.
The bad news–no, the really, really, awful news–is that Faulkner Hospital is directly across the street from the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard’s tree museum, which is dedicated to “the understanding, appreciation, and preservation of trees.” Faulkner Hospital is also across the street from the 86-acre Allandale Woods Urban Wild, which has quite a few trees of its own, for now, and a few minutes as the beetle flies from Franklin Park, Forest Hills Cemetery, Larz Anderson Park, Jamaica Pond… I keep trying to think of a worse place in Boston for this creeping terror to show up, and I’m not coming up with much.
These beetles kill trees. They’re not complicated as serial killers go; they don’t selectively attack Amur cork or Kentucky coffee trees, or introduce exciting new parasites that force trees to grow noses or start tap-dancing. They just chew holes in the wood until the trees die. They’re not too fussy; the University of Vermont Asian Longhorned Beetle site’s list of “very good hosts” for the beetles includes maples, box elders, willows, elms, horsechestnuts, and buckeyes: birches, plane trees, and sycamores are “good hosts.”
Now, stop for a minute and think about how many street trees will be left in Boston once all the maples, plane trees, willows, sycamores, and elms are gone. Have I mentioned that maples alone make up 30% of street trees in the eastern US? Sadly, they don’t eat Ailanthus, a.k.a. Tree of Heaven a.k.a. that Tree that’s Making that Awful Smell (and it’s on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List to boot). There are trees that the beetles don’t eat, including white oaks, serviceberries, and tulip trees–but the thought of having to replant 30% of our trees makes me feel ill.
According to the University of Vermont, it’s difficult to poison the beetles with insecticide–they’re inside the trees!–and judging by the damage they cause in their native habitats in China, it’s hard to find good predators to keep them under control. The only option to keep them from spreading is to destroy and grind the trees where they’re found. Around Worcester, MA, beetles have been found in 74 square miles of forest, and more than 25,000 trees have been destroyed to keep the beetles from spreading to, well, everywhere.
Want to see these miserable wastes of protoplasm in action? Take a look at the trailer for Bugged, a new documentary about the beetle battle by Fitchburg native Emily Driscoll. The music is cheesy, but the bugs are real. Take a look at the size of the holes these blistering blue beetles are boring, and be afraid. Be very afraid.