Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Zombie Maple Leaves

A neighbor of mine asked me about her Red Maple.  It had developed small red warts on the leaves.

This unattractive growth has an unattractive name:

Bladder galls

Disgusting name aside, these little annoyances are merely that: annoyances.  They will not permanently damage your Maple.  In the spring, they start out green, then turn to red, and finally, black.  They are unsightly, but once the gall is formed, there's really nothing to be done.  The 'zit' is actually the leaf's response to a small mite.  To control the mite, you can spray the tree with dormant oil spray before the leaves emerge.

But now that I'm on the subject of bugs, whatever happened to insect horror flicks?  You know, those old-fashioned, black-and-white B movies made famous in the fifties.  Hollywood needs to rethink their horror genre and revisit the entomology theme.  Or maybe entomology professors need to rethink their boring lectures....

Take our warty little friend, the Maple Bladder gall, for example.  What we have here is a Vampire Zombie movie in the making.  Imagine, if you will, the life cycle of the gall mite:

It's early spring, a perfectly beautiful day in Illinois.  A delighted gardener wanders outside to enjoy the fresh breeze and sunshine.   Little does she know that a band of insidious mites are perched on her beloved Red Maple, waiting for the unsuspecting buds to leaf out.

When the buds open, the mites attack!  Puncturing the leaves with their fangs (slight exaggeration for the Hollywood effect), the mites inject their zombie poison.  The infected Maple leaves morph, growing galls in which their attackers can live.  The Zombie leaves are then host to their intruders, protecting them even as they feed on its flesh.

Mr. and Mrs. Mite set up house inside the gall and get busy with the egg-laying.  When the baby mites hatch, they victimize more leaves.  Today, the tree.  Tomorrow, the world!

Okay, reality check: bladder gall mites are not headed for world domination.  The zombie poison is simply a plant growth hormone.  And as winter approaches, they all bed down in the bark and snooze away until the next spring.  But don't you agree?  It's time to bring the buggy horror flicks back.

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