Red Bay

Reuters misunderstands death of George Harrison pine tree in Griffith Park

22 July 2014  Idea of the day “True self-discovery begins where your comfort zone ends.” Adam Braun, author of The Promise of a Pencil

Reuters newswire just reported that a pine tree planted in 2001 in Griffith Park in Los Angeles to commemorate the passing of the Beatle George Harrison was killed by pine bark beetles.  Kinda ironic beetles would get a Beatle tree, eh?

Except they got it wrong, like many people do who assume that beetles are often the nasty critters that kill trees. But these insects are usually being maligned!

Occasionally there is the rare case of a beetle, for example the exotic red bay ambrosia beetle imported from China which has “killed” red bay trees from Savannah, Georgia, (where it first entered the country via pallets at the port used for shipping) all the way down to Miami-Dade County.  Here is one of the last living red bays in the Tampa Bay area I saw on a bicycle ride this morning still living but being attacked by the red bay ambrosia beetle.  I’m going to miss the red bays.  When you crack its leaves you get a wonderful spicy, pungent aroma used in exotic food recipes known as “bay spice”.
One of the last red bays in Tampa Bay still alive but being attacked by ambrosia beetle  2nd red bay mostly dead from laurel wilt
A first cousin to the red bay tree, the avocado tree, is also attacked by this bug – although the beetle prefers red bays –   and the entire avocado industry in southern Florida is currently in worried battle against it, very concerned that the Florida avocado industry could go extinct because of the invader.  After oranges, avocados are the second biggest fruit industry in Florida.

In this case it is a fungus that actually kills the tree, not the beetle.  But the ambrosia beetle brings the laurel wilt fungus with it, is attracted to the red bay, swamp pay, sassafras and avocado trees (all members of the Laurel tree family), bores into and injects the fungi into the trees which clog up its veins and vessels (xylem and phloem), making it impossible for the tree to uptake enough water and minerals and killing them within five to eleven weeks.

But in this case, the pine bark beetles were just doing their job – cleaning up decayed wood in the environment.  It’s a similar function to vultures cleaning up decaying carrion in the environment.  Vultures didn’t cause the death of the animals, they’re just the garbage crew.

The actual cause of the death of the George Harrison pine tree was the drought that California has been going through for years.  Once the 12 ft. young tree succumbed to the lack of water, the pine bark beetles could smell it was dead and came in to clean up.  Another tree is planned to be planted for Harrison in the same spot.

So don’t be so ready to blame tree death on Beatles . . . errr I mean . . . beetles!