AMES, Iowa - Mark Widrlechner may someday be known as the modern-day Johnny Appleseed for ash trees.
As the devastating insect emerald ash borer is working its way across North America destroying almost all the native ash trees it encounters, Widrlechner is rapidly collecting and storing ash tree seeds.
Like the legendary Appleseed who planted apple trees across the country, Widrlechner's seed stocks can serve as a national source for reintroducing ash trees once the devastation can be controlled.
Widrlechner, horticulturist for the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture at ISU, is a curator at the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station in Ames, Iowa, responsible for collecting and maintaining seeds for several species of trees, including ash, for the USDA's National Plant Germplasm System.
As the pest devours ash tree populations on its way across North America, there may soon be few, if any, ash trees left.
"Where these borers have been present the longest, it has basically been a total wipeout," said Widrlechner.
"That is something we rarely see in nature," he said. "It's uncommon for a pest to come in and just clean something out. It doesn't just attack sick trees. Emerald ash borer attacks healthy trees. It attacks small trees. So you don't have just big, old trees falling to this, you've got 2 to 3 inch saplings falling to this."
Estimates from New York - one of the states the insect will infest as the devastation grows in circles spreading outward from Michigan, where it was first discovered in June 2002 -- put the total number of ash trees destroyed at 70 million as of June.
Emerald ash borer is native to Asia, and North American ash trees have not shown any natural resistance to it. The pest's larvae burrow just under the bark and into the circulatory system of the tree.
|Contact: Mark Widrlechner|
Iowa State University