Life With Ferris: Protect Our Hemlocks

Monday, May 10, 2021 - by Ferris Robinson

I moved into a house a few years ago that is surrounded by 27 mature hemlock trees. These graceful evergreens shelter the brick house and soften it, as well as provide a gorgeous privacy screen. You may know that the hemlock trees on Lookout Mountain are in danger of totally disappearing because of an infestation of the hemlock woolly adelgid, a small aphid-like insect that covers itself with a white, woolly coating to protect itself. The larva attach themselves to the under sides of needles and branches on hemlock trees, and remain there their entire lives, sucking sap 24 hours a day from the needles. The needles then fall off, depleting the flow of nutrients, which causes the tree to die. They can be recognized by what appears to be tiny cotton balls at the base of the needles. Their numbers increase exponentially and rapidly because both the male and female are capable of laying 300 eggs three times a year. 

Aware of the woolly adelgid infestation, the first thing I did after the moving van pulled away was to call Jimmy Stewart. My trees showed no signs of the cottony white insect, but a house nearby was lined with hemlock skeletons after the woolly adelgids were obviously unchecked.

My house is wonderful, but those trees are a big part of its appeal. Without them, the exposed brick house would lose a lot of its value, and all of its curb appeal. I’m all about my home’s property value, but on a more important scale, hemlocks are vital to the environment. A keystone species, hemlocks play a unique role in providing food and habitat for 120 species of vertebrates and more than 90 species of birds, in addition to shade for native plants and protection for watersheds and water quality.

Signal Mountain has a tree board; we have Jimmy Stewart. This professional gardener and community volunteer has single handedly taken on this plague and is trying valiantly to educate the community before this insect destroys them and changes the landscape of the mountain. If not treated, it is inevitable a tree will die, he said. The good news is that there are effective treatments that can save a tree even after it is covered in the insects.  It is important to treat trees that already have the adelgid to kill them and to treat the ones that are not yet affected to help prevent the spread. Once treated, he said, results can be seen within months. It is the responsibility of homeowners to treat trees that are in their yards, and it is the responsibility of Lookout Mountain, Tn., and Lookout Mountain, Ga., to treat those on municipally owned property. “Everybody needs to do their part,” he said. 

The website www.SaveGeorgiasHemlocks.org is recommended for additional and reliable information. Jimmy Stewart is also available and willing to talk to homeowners at 413-6420. 

Take a look around at the hemlocks next time you are out for a walk, and think what it would look like without them!

* * *

Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator serie, “If Bugs Are Banished.” “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.


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