April 23, 2016: When one thinks of industrial espionage, which if you're like me is not very often, you probably have an image of high tech or industrial formula theft, not something as mundane as tea. But one of the greatest cases in history of industrial espionage involved tea and how a crusty Scottish botanist, Robert Fortune, stole it and its processing secrets from the Chinese.

By the mid 1800's, the tea drinkers of the British Empire had been enjoying that beverage for a couple hundred years. It came at a very heavy price for tea and how to process it was the sole monopoly of China. Furthermore. the Chinese were very particular in how they would be paid - by silver. No checks, no cash, no byte coin, not even debit cards. British tea importers had to first buy the silver to buy the tea, which was expensive.

The prime British tea importer, the British East India Company, came up with the idea of introducing and selling to the Chinese opium grown in British India in the mid-1700's. They sold it for silver and turned around and bought Chinese tea with it. This worked out well . . . for the British, until some Chinese emperor saw that having an opium addicted populace wasn't all that good a deal and prohibited under severe penalty the usage and trade of opium.

The British, much like their former colonial Americans, became highly insulted by this cavalier act of restricting free trade and proceeded to go to war with China in what was called the First Opium War (1840-1842). Britain won, they forced China to resume trade in opium and they got the port of Hong Kong to boot.

Robert FortuneRobert FortuneEnter Robert Fortune. The British East India Company thought it would be a great idea if they could just bypass the whole Chinese tea connection by growing tea in India. The problem was no one had tea plants nor the knowledge of how to process tea, which, surprisingly, is quite complex. China closely guarded its tea secrets. So in 1846, they sent botanist Robert Fortune to the newly acquired Hong Kong to infiltrate the Chinese tea trade.

Fortune had already been to China three years before on a plant collecting trip. He had developed the art of blending in by adopting Mandarin dress and speech, complete with shaved head and queue (pigtail). Feigning that he was a official from a far off province, Fortune and his interpreter were admitted to tea factories where he observed how green tea and the more highly processed black tea were made. While observing he noticed that the Chinese added two curious components to their tea for export - a chemical called Prussian Blue and gypsum, the major component of plaster. Both of these chemicals were added as colorants to make the green tea look green. The Chinese felt really green green tea was much more marketable to western barbarians. (I wonder if this is the start of our modern day food additive industry?). Both of these chemicals are toxic to the nervous system in lower concentrations over time causing dizziness, confusion, memory loss and irritability and perhaps, dare say I, the proclivity to go to war over the slightest provocations.

Fortune ended up successfully smuggling out the Chinese tea processes, 20,000 tea plants in Wardian cases (miniature greenhouse-like bell jars) and several Chinese tea techs to India, where a thriving tea industry was built that, to this day, produces more tea than China.

You would have thought that once the British Empire got their own tea the trade troubles would have ended. Not so. In 1856, the Second Opium War erupted this time with Britain, America, France and Russia demanding China open up to more free trade and the legalization of opium in the country. They won. Who'd have guessed that a century and half ago there had been a "war for drugs" instead of the current war against them.

Robert Fortune continued with plant collecting trips to Formosa and Japan and introduced to Western gardens such now common plants as chrysanthemums, tree peonies, several species of azaleas and others. In botanical nomenclature, the species name of "fortunei" appears a lot indicating yet another plant introduced to us by the Scot who dressed in Chinese drag.

For more on this, I highly recommend reading the book "For All the Tea in China" by Sarah Rose. There is even a novel written, "The Secret Mandarin" (which is on my to-read list) with Robert Fortune as a major character.

Chinese opium partyChinese opium party
English tea partyEnglish tea party
American tea partyAmerican tea party


March 3, 2016: This is about honeybees in the landscape. Before I begin though, I'd like to apologize for the title. It's corny. I have noticed that with advancing years, I and many other fellow senior peers seem to be getting cornier. I have wondered why this is. I have trolled through the Internet hoping to find some scholarly research, something like "Observational Studies of Humor Change in Humans and Other Primates as a Function of Age", but to no avail.

So I ponder. Is it because time dulls the razor edge of our rapier wit? As faculties diminish, do we forget the more complex nuances and timing of humor? Do we revert to childhood again? Will I be calling up strangers and asking them if their refrigerator is running? (Then you'd better catch it! Yuk, yuk) Or is it because we don't give a damn anymore? After years of having to be cool and repressing our inner corn, do we decide to drop the facade? Perhaps beneath the banal veneer of a corny joke lies a greater truth that only with time and wisdom can be seen. . . . . But, I digress. Have you ever noticed that some seniors will start talking about something and then ramble off onto a whole different topic? I have pondered on this and . . . . I'll save that for another day.

I keep bees. It is a delightful hobby and a wonderful asset in the landscape. I would like to suggest bees as a planned component of your landscape - part of the landscape design. We all know that bees are Octagonal WarreOctagonal Warrepollinators (many solitary bees as well as honeybees) and if you have fruit trees or a vegetable garden, they can dramatically increase your bounty. Colorfully painted or artistically built hives (such as Langstroth hives with gabled copper roofs or Warre hives) can be hardscape features that can be strong focal points or accents in the landscape design. The sounds and the motion that come from a healthy hive add further interest to a landscape. And then there's the honey!

Beekeepers are very sensitive to stress that they "keep" bees, they don't "have" bees. The difference Decorated LangstrothDecorated Langstrothbeing that in beekeeping you actively manage a hive versus simply having a hive that does its own thing without your meddling. Though the latter seems more sustainable, that's not the case. Honeybees don't fare well in our clime without some management. If you're going to be a bee-haver, I'd suggest being a beehivebox-haver. Have the colorful bee-utiful (sorry) hive boxes without the bees. You might get lucky and have a swarm take residence.

if you decide you'd like to keep bees, here's a few bullet points you ought to know.

- Beekeeping isn't cheap. The woodware and frames for a Langstroth hive (the most common type of hive) will set you back $100 - $150/hive and that's not counting the bees (another $100-$160) or the protection wear and starting equipment (~$150-$200).

- Bees don't last without your meddling. There would be some that would disagree but they would be in a very small minority. For honeybees to get through our long damp winters, you have to control for mites and other diseases. You also have to feed them (sugar syrup) from time to time - like right now when the temperature is warming but there's not a lot of flower nectar out. Nationwide annual colony loss due to starvation and winter has run as high as 45% and that's amongst commercial and hobby beekeepers. Amongst bee-havers? Probably a lot more.

- Bees swarm. A bee colony is a superorganism - something that we regard as an individual that is in fact Old Guy with SwarmOld Guy with Swarmmade up of thousands of individuals - as many as 60,000 in a healthy hive. It's natural reproduction is to increase in size to the point that it splits into two colonies. The old queen and half or more of the old colony comes exploding out of the hive and flies off to a new location leaving behind a weaker and more diminished colony. Beekeepers try to control swarming by adding more living space to the hive or other techniques.

- Bees sting. Unless you're allergic to bee stings (~.2% are), it is of my opinion that the fear of being stung is greater than the actual sting. If you have bees though, expect to be stung sometime. I average about 4-5 stings/year. Some beekeepers less. Accidently bump a hive over or drop a frame and you can expect more. If you keep bees in urban/suburban areas, it'll be your neighbors fear of bee stings that you should fear more. Proper placement of hives to lessen neighbor/bee interaction and the occasional peace offering of a jar of honey can be helpful.

- Bees are complicated. There is a lot to know about keeping bees. The best way you can learn about keeping bees is to keep them. Fortunately there is lots of educational support for new and old beekeepers. Joining a local beekeeper's club and participating in their springtime bee school is a great way to get that education started.

I hope I've encouraged you to welcome bees into your landscape. If you'd like the much easier route of Mason Bee CondoMason Bee Condohaving bees, I would like to suggest solitary bees, like the Mason bee. They don't form colonies but live in their own individual "tubes" that can be combined into very nice and artistic Mason bee apartment complexes. You won't get honey, but they pretty well take care of themselves and it is of the rarest occurrence that one ever gets stung by Mason bees.

I hope I haven't dissuaded either from keeping bees. I have never had a more pleasurable, satisfying, nor challenging hobby. It's a lifetime hobby and one I plan continue until I depart for that great Bee-yond. (sorry)

Hey, have you got Prince Albert in a can?


Feb 14, 2016: Recently, an observant reader pointed out that in my limited list of insect supervillains I had forgotten one, Mothra! How could I have forgotten the immortal early 60's Japanese monster film in which a giant moth, accompanied by her (Mothra was also a mother) two fairy handlers called the Twins, battles Godzilla. Silks webs versus atomic breath, you don't see that kind of imagination in today's monster movies, by cracky.

Thank you observant reader and how prescient . . . for Mothra has returned!! . . . to the Pacific Northwest, albeit in a more diminutive form. The Asian gypsy moth, whose larvae can dine on the leaves of over 600 species of leaves and shrubs, was found in the Portland Metro area last year in monitoring traps set up. Though it has not made any significant incursions into the US yet , it's potential to wreak havoc is great. Even a small outbreak might cause quarantines of Oregonian timber and nursery stock which would be a big economic owie.

Only seven were trapped but those are just indicators. A single gypsy moth female lays an egg mass that AGM egg massAGM egg masscan contain between several hundred to a thousand eggs. Do the math and it doesn't take long for the population to build. The Oregon Dept.of Agriculture is proposing spraying parts of Forest Park and North Portland this spring with a biological pesticide called Btk, short for Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki. Its a bacteria that attacks the gut of the gypsy moth larvae (It's the larvae that does the defoliation damage) causing them to stop feeding and die. Btk is selective and only kills a narrow range of moth species larvae.

Spraying anything, particularly aerial spraying as this will be, will surely cause a tsunami of environmental concerns, little of which, in my humble opinion, will be warranted. One can access information on Btk from Oregon State Health Authority at:

I feel like Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now". You remember the scene where you just see the silhouette AGM larvaeAGM larvaeof his rather large body in the dark of his jungle hut and he's whispering "the horror, the horror, the horror"? I have experienced "the horror" of the Asian gypsy moth's (AGM) close cousin, the European gypsy moth (GM) , which has been ravaging the forests of the Northeast and upper Mid-West since it was first introduced to North America in 1869. As a kid growing up in upstate New York I remember hearing the pitter patter of raindrops on our roof one summer evening, except they weren't raindrops, they were frass (poop) of thousands of gypsy moths in the tree canopies overhead. The next morning the green leafy forest that was our backyard was a skeletal forest. Just the midrib and veins of the leaves were left behind. Oh, the Horror.

Blimp control for GMBlimp control for GMGM outbreaks are cyclical. Every 6-7 years the Horror returns and then it disappears. It actually doesn't disappear, the population crashes due to diseases. Before Bt was around to spray, one of the earlier biological controls were NPV, a type of virus that occurred naturally within GM. Before that, there was the non-biological control DDT, and we all know about that story. Tens of millions of dollars in control efforts later and we still have GM.

The common name of " gypsy moth" is at first odd when you consider that the female adults can't fly and the male adults can only fly a couple hundred yards. However the female has the habit of laying it's eggs EVERYWHERE. That means lawn furniture, car tires, the sides of campers, etc and then these get transported by unsuspecting humans to another location where they hatch. The Asian gypsy moth, though , is a super traveler. Not only does the female lay eggs similarly to GM but both male and female can fly . . . up to 30 miles.

Observant readers that you are, you're probably also wondering how we know the exact introduction date of the GM into North America. We not only know when, but we know who. Some schmuck, by the name of TrouvelotTrouvelotEtienne Trouvelot, brought the eggs from Europe and began experimenting with rearing them as a substitute of Asian silkworm. He thought if he could cross GM with the Asian silkworm he could create a hardy, cost effect silk producer. The problem was the two species are too dissimilar to cross. There not even in the same insect family. What a putz! Instead, some of the gypsy moths escaped and the story continues. To be fair, Trouvelot realized the problem and notified local authorities but nothing was done. He then decide it might be best to hightail it back to France.

Now here's a guy that as a result of a biological blunder created a legacy and a name that is remembered (by me and now by you, at least) for a century and a half. In my golden years, I think about what kind of legacy I will leave behind. How will I transform my name from insignificance to immortality? I could always grab a gun and occupy some federal building but I suspect that's fleeting. Trouvelot's name will go on long after the militia morons' are forgotten. Ah, but be an entomological or botanical terroist? Introduce something that will be a pain in our ecological #@!%'s for decades, now that is lasting infamy.

Kudzu, the vine that ate the South, I'm thinking. Nah, thats been tried before. African bees, yes! Nah, they don't survive our winters. Africanized Russian bees? - Nah, they haven't been bred yet. So while I'm thinking of something really bad I can introduce and achieve immortality and if you'd rather be part of the solution than introducing a problem, there are informational meetings being held the evening of February 17 and morning of February 20 in North Portland. You can find specific info at:

Well, I've got to head back to my barn, where I'm raising something really big and bad, that I can't tell you about.
If found, call me immediately!If found, call me immediately!



Feb. 4 2016: So how does an insect that has co-evolved with its host for millenniums suddenly become the Scourge of the West? Climate change, that's what most that study the beetle believe. . . .Ah, there's that climate change stuff again, you're probably saying. The answer to everything these days is climate change, including why my last check at the supermarket bounced and if you're one of the maligned few that are climate change deniers, or climate skeptics, as they prefer to be called, it's got to be so frustrating you just want to grab your rifle and your tinfoil hat and go squat on some federal land. But I digress.

If our winters are getting warmer and our summers are getting drier, as forecast in a 2012 US Forest Service study of the Pacific Northwest, then what happens is a higher percentage of bark beetles survive through the winter. The more that make it through the spring the larger the populations become. The climate no longer acts like a check to the population. Drier summers results in greater drought stress in trees and we know now that's a veritable cavitation symphony (see Bark Beetle Boy-Act II for cavitation explanation) to the beetles.

Our own forest management practices have contributed to the beetle explosion. Diligent fire fighting has reduced forest fires in the past. That's good for timber production and public safety and also the beetles. The ecology of fire is to thin out and cull the sick and unthrifty (overmature trees, suppressed trees, stressed trees).the same trees that are ideal beetle targets. The irony is that as the bark beetle problem gets worse, due in part to fire reduction efforts, the trees that the beetle kills (estimated at 100,00 per day) leads to a dramatically increased fuel load in the forest. When forest fires come now, they are doozies.

So how is the beetle fought in the vast arena that are our Western forests? There are a number of strategies proposed and underway. One is to do nothing. Some scientists believe that natural selection will prevail. That within a tree species population there are individuals that genetically are better adapted to warmer climates and drought stress or can better defend themselves through greater pitch production than their peers. Those "supertrees" survive and pass on their genotypes eventually creating a forest that is resistant. Natural selection is not exclusive though and the beetles can also be co-evolving along with the supertree. Proponents of the watch and wait approach point out that, despite over 300 million spent so far in beetle control measures, overall forest damage has only been reduced marginally.

One of the more active controls is the pursuit of controlled harvesting through logging and pre-commercial of forest stands. By decreasing a forest stand's density, you also increase it's vigor, so a less compact hardier forest is less susceptible to beetle attack. By harvesting dead and dying beetle-killed trees, you are removing the beetle at its buffet. At least that's the logic.

Verbenone packetVerbenone packetRemember pheromones from the last article? They are being used now. One pheromone in particular, verbenone, is being used for controlling mountain pine beetle (MPB)and Ips beetle. The synthetic pheromone is a repellant. It mimics the beetle's "Stay away from my trough!!" scent . It is applied via bags stapled to trees or plastic flakes that are broadcast from the air. Because of cost (~$170/acre), its unfeasible for the forestland, except for very high value small stands. The city of Big Sky, Montana and a ski resort near Aspen, for example, have used this control. Timing is critical with pheromones. It must be out just before the first male beetles fly in the spring. Miss that variable window and you're hosed.

Chemical insecticides are largely ineffective. On high value landscape pines, some insecticides can be used as a preventive during beetle flight but must be applied annually. Once the beetle gets inside the tree no insecticide will work effectively. On a forest wide basis, chemical control is impractical, costly and environmentally unsound. For the homeowner it may be an option but requires hiring a commercial applicator with high pressure spray rig to completely cover the tree. It's not a DIY thing.

Since beetle attacks and drought stress go hand in hand, for the homeowner with a few landscape pines summer irrigation can help relieve that water stress. It's not an absolute safeguard but it helps.

Ending Scene - Bark Beetle Boy
(War torn, smoldering forest rubble. Final battle over. Dead bark beetles by the thousands, crashed planes, burnt out tanks, etc litter the scene. Our hero/ine stumbles through, aghast at the death and destruction. Stops in front of the huge dead prostrate body of Bark Beetle Boy. Behind him/her follows Old Bearded Guy with Suspenders)

Hero/ine: My God! What a cost, but it finally over. Our forests can finally heal now. Our children can finally go alone into them without fear. He (points to BBB) and all his kind are gone!

Old Bearded Guy: Nah, chief. They've gone away, but they're not gone.

Hero/ine: You mean they'll be back?

Old Bearded Guy: Sure, they always have. Maybe not tomorrow or next year but they will be back, and they'll be stronger and smarter and smellier.

Hero/ine: It'll never end?!

Old Bearded Guy: It'll never end.

(Both look into the horizon. Camera pans to dead Bark Beetle Boy. Zooms in to compound eye. One of the three hundred simple eyes appears to wink. )

(Screen goes black. The End)

I have to say I've been a little bit disappointed in the major comic publishers in jumping on this. All I've received from them so far are some cease-and-desist letters about using their names in this blog.
I have, however, received a $50 cash offer for exclusive movie rights from Roy's Comic Books in Minot, N. Dakota. Roy promises to have it in production and ready for a screen debut at the Parker Senior Center in Minot by early 2018. It's not as much as I hoped for, but this story has to get out. I hope you'll join me for its debut.




In the insect world, communication within a species can be through several media. They can communicate through sight and movement, such as the honeybee "waggle dance". They can communicate through sound like the chirping of cicadas. By far the biggest is the media of smell. Pheromones are chemicals produced by insects and animals and even some plants that affect behavior. Sometimes the behavior of another member of your species, sometimes a member of a totally different species (Truffles, for example, produce a pheromone similar to a sexual attractant pheromone produced by mammalian males. That's why pigs can "smell" them and find them) Some have an odor to them, some do not.

The bark beetle's pheromone lexicon is pretty ingenious. When an adult male locates a susceptible tree (remember from Act II-A how they can hear stress), they land on the bark and chew into the inner bark. If they're successful and haven't been drowned by the tree's pitch, they emit a pheromone that attracts other bark beetles, male and female. "Hey. I found a way into the store! There's lots of loot!"

At some point, after a number of other beetles have taken the invitation (particularly the females), now the original colonizers start issuing a pheromone that says, "Buzz off. No room at the trough!" Kind of the chemical equivalent of gang tagging their territory.

Mountain pine beetle galleryMountain pine beetle galleryThe beetles do damage in two ways. First, the adults that make it past the outer bark, begin to feed on the inner bark. The inner bark contains the phloem, the food carrying part of the tree. The female also lays eggs here and when they hatch, the larvae also begins to chew tunnels through the phloem. Its effect is to girdle or sever the highway between the food producing needles and the food needy roots. Roots that can't get food will die and now they can't pump up water and minerals to the needles above. Not good at all for the tree, but the tree still have a shot at surviving.

The second type of damage, the double whammy for the tree, is the fungus that the beetles carry on their body. This fungus, called blue stain fungus, infects the sapwood of the tree. The sapwood is the newest wood of a tree, from the last 3 to 10 annual rings of growth. The sapwood contains the xylem, the water and mineral conducting vessels. The fungus grows rapidly and clogs this xylem up. That means sudden death to the tree. No water, no leaves or needles.

Blue stain fungus got its name because it stains the wood blue. When beetle killed trees go to a sawmill Blue stain fungusBlue stain funguswhat gets milled out are boards with a bluish cast to them. When I was an extension agent in Colorado, a couple decades ago, blue stained lumber was just coming down from a peak demand craze. For awhile, everybody wanted to line their rec rooms with blue stain board paneling. With lots of beetle killed trees and lots of demand, local loggers were doing well. No fads last forever, and soon blue stain lumber was old hat. Instead of beetle killed stands being harvested, they were left standing and the incidences and severity of forest fires went up.

We have now large areas of dead standing timber thanks to the bark beetles. Every year we seem to have a fire season worse than the preceding year. What is causing this escalating plague of bark beetles? How can we stem the tide? That will be Bark Beetle Boy: Act III - The Dramatic Conclusion.

(Note to Marvel: So of course, we'll have the Army, Air Force, Seals and Marines all battling Bark Beetle Boy and the Legion, but to no avail.

Scene: (Field Commander in tent. Military personnel racing around.)
Commander: "Nothing we do seems to work! Every stratagem, every maneuver we make they anticipate! It's as if they read our minds."

(From the dark background of the tent, an old bearded guy in suspenders shuffles up.)

Old Bearded Guy: "Nah, chief, they're not reading your mind, they're smelling it. If you want a chance, you gotta fight smell with smell. Here." (Hands an aerosol can to the Commander)

Commander: "What's this? Date-Mate??"

Old Bearded Guy: " It's a sexual attractant pheromone. Spray this on every tank, plane and soldier we have. Not only will they know we're coming, but they'll come to us. Love will conquer all."

F & P