HEMLOCK HOWDY

April 1, 2018: It is refreshing in our know-it-all world to find something we didn't know about. Recently a new species of Hemlock tree was discovered on a remote island off the coast of South Korea. Now, I know that this probably isn't going to set off a tsunamis of tweets, but my heart is aflutter at the news. This new species, Tsuga ulleungensis, lives on the slopes of an inactive volcano on a tiny island and it became both the newest tree discovered in 2017 and the most endangered at the same time and already we have plans for it.

Along the spine of the Appalachians, the Eastern Hemlock is being decimated by a tiny pest called the Hemlock wooly adelgid. This tiny aphid-like creature sucks the sap from needles and it protects itself by exuding a cottony mass around its body. Just imagine thousands of Q-tips heads glued to the branches of a tree. Within a year most hemlocks die. It's a BAD problem.

Enter our new hemlock species. It's related to Japanese hemlock trees. The hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) came from Japan (thank you kindly). The Japanese hemlock and HWA co-evolved, so Japanese hemlocks have the genetic makeup so that they're not as badly walloped as our Eastern hemlocks are. The hope is that the new hemlock species may have even more resistance genes in its DNA and that crossbreeding it with Eastern hemlock may give it some HWA protection.

Exciting, yes? Well, maybe if you're a forester or arborist. If you're the newly discovered species itself, I'm not so sure. Just imagine if you were Tsuga ulleungensis (that is if you're semi-retired and have time for such ludicrous musings). You've been standing on your volcano with your close-knit group of friends and family for millions of years and suddenly that isolation is shattered. You're discovered and the world has great plans for analyzing, breeding and propagating you. That's when I'd want to be the Howard Hughes or Greta Garbo of the plant world. I yust vant to be alone.

If there are any undiscovered species reading this, a word of warning. Lay low, keep quiet, don't be too showy or useful. We'd love to meet you, but you might not.

F & P