August 25 – All Natural

Today’s factismal: The berries of some species of viburnum are highly prized for jams and jellies but the berries of other viburnum species can kill you.

One of the prettiest plants in many a Northeasterner’s garden is the viburnum. This fast-growing shrub has showy flowers with an enchanting fragrance and berries that, while always colorful, range from delicious to deadly. But if you leave the berries to the birds, you’ll still appreciate the plant for its plentiful shade and the gentle arcs of color its leaves and flowers make. Or at least, you will until the viburnum leaf beetle gets to it!

Viburnum in flower (My camera)

Viburnum in flower
(My camera)

As with so many other pests, the viburnum leaf beetle is an invasive species. It was accidentally introduced into North America in 1947, and has slowly been munching its way across the country. The viburnum leaf beetle is an ugly little critter and leaves tell-tale scars on the plants it attacks. While the adults eat the leaves of the viburnum, the larvae feed on the plant from the inside. That’s because the female viburnum leaf beetle plants the eggs into the plant by chewing a series of small round holes on the bottom of twigs before placing the eggs inside and sealing them up with her poop mixed with sawdust to wait out the winter. The larvae emerge in the spring and begin gnawing on leaves before dropping to the ground to pupate after which they emerge and once more begin eating their fill of viburnum.

An infestation can denude a viburnum plant fairly quickly, and repeated infestations can kill it entirely. Because the pest is spreading, both entomologists and botanists are seeking help form concerned citizen scientists like you. If you’d like to help track the spread of the viburnum leaf beetle, head over to Cornell’s Viburnum Leaf Beetle website:

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