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Ash killer spreading to other trees

Destructive beetle showing up in trees along Ohio River.

A new discovery by a Wright State University scientist indicates the emerald ash borer is killing off another tree — potentially allowing the pest to create more havoc from the forest to backyards.

Biology professor Don Cipollini said he’s discovered the green beetle using the white fringetree as a host — eating its leaves and infesting its trunk to reproduce.

While it’s already known that fringetree leaves are food for the borer, the ability of the bug to live in the tree and use it to complete its life-cycle would be a new discovery.

“I had a hunch,” Cipollini said. “I thought I would spend time this summer and look into it. And this is where it led.”

The tree is not found in the woods here and is considered a decorative ornamental. But you can buy it at nurseries and it shows up in the wild along the Ohio River.

The borer is an Asian native that first turned up in the vicinity of Detroit in 2002 — likely carried into the country by ash wood used to build packing crates.

Despite quarantines on moving ash, the beetle has spread throughout Ohio and is on track to kill billions of trees. It is a rapid killer. Once infested, trees die from the top down — usually within three to five years — as the borer disrupts the circulatory system.

Five Rivers MetroParks is trying to save its largest, healthiest ash trees by using insecticides. Six hundred ash have been treated. But the parks agency alone has taken out about 1,600 infested trees, and other jurisdictions are aggressively removing ash from roadways and other areas where they can cause problems.

Over time, it’s likely only a small portion of the state’s more than 3.8 billion ash trees will survive.

A fringetree infestation — should it occur — would not cause near the same problems, at least not in this area.

“We don’t have any wild fringetrees in our region,” said Dave Nolin, Five Rivers’ Conservation Director. “You have to go down to the Ohio River area to find them. They are strictly an ornamental species in our area.”

White fringetrees are typically found along the eastern seaboard as far south as Florida and as far west as Texas and Oklahoma. They can survive in northern climates and are extensively planted in gardens.

Cipollini made the discovery Aug. 17 when examining an ornamental fringetree planted along the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Yellow Springs. He found a typical borer exit hole on the tree’s bark — a hole shaped like a capital “D.”

He found another infested fringetree at Cox Arboretum, 6733 N Springboro Pike, and another at Ferncliff Cemetery in Springfield. When he opened up one of the trees, he found an adult borer.

The upshot of the discovery could be state and federal quarantines on moving the fringetree, similar to those imposed on moving ash. More research is needed, Cipollini said.

Fringetrees, which feature colorful blooms, are growing in popularity. The trees produce a fruit that looks like an olive and can be consumed by wildlife.

Cipollini is presenting his findings today to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture at an emerald ash borer research review meeting on the Wooster campus of Ohio State University.

Dan Herms, professor of Entomology at Ohio State University, said the discovery is significant.

“It’s the first time the emerald ash borer has been found colonizing another species than ash,” Herms said.

Controlling the beetle in fringetrees shouldn’t be as difficult as controlling the pest in ash, however. “It’s a smaller plant,” Herms said. “It would be easier for homeowners to control.”

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