RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Environmentalists are warning about Richmond’s crape myrtle trees being attacked by a non-native invasive species called bark scale.
The tree-damaging bugs have resurfaced and are threatening the city’s greenery.
The pests look like white or grayish cotton specks, and they feed on the crape myrtle trees’ sap which eventually weakens them.
The crape myrtle bark scale can lead to a tree’s stunted growth, branch dieback, and death if left untreated.
“They’ve been spreading like wildfire across the nation,” Peggy Singlemann, the creator of RVA Gardner LLC, said. “What’s distressing is the flowers would get smaller, and the flower clusters will get smaller. And the plant would just get weaker and weaker, and eventually, something else would come in and finish it off.”
In Richmond, the insects’ primary hatch period is in April and May. They typically have a second hatch period later in the summer, Singlemann said.
The crape myrtle trees are native to Asia. The bark scale are from the same region, and made their way to Texas before spreading rapidly in Virginia.
Richmond Tree Stewards, a trained volunteer group that promotes and improves the health of the city’s trees, said crape myrtles make up about 7% of the city’s tree canopy. Singlemann said people should take action before the estimated 3,330 crape myrtle trees in the city get weaker.
“This is a lot of crape myrtles, and plus they’re beautifying our community,” she said. “They’re beautifying our landscape, and they’re adding to the value of our homes because they are such beautiful plants.”
To treat an infected crape myrtle tree, scrub the bark scale off with soapy water and a brush, Singlemann said. You can also spray the tree with a horticulture oil or neem oil, but you have to use it regularly and throughout the season. Lastly, you can use a systemic product like dinotefuran.
“Our community forest plays a huge role in our personal well being as well as providing shade,” she said. “Our well being is quelled by having the presence of trees and beautiful plants to live amongst.”