By Matt de Simone
Recently, an unknown pathogenic fungus was spotted in the white pine trees of Botetourt County. The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) began monitoring plots in Botetourt and surrounding counties that also have traces of the perceived cause of this pathogen that seems to affect the lifespan of a white pine.
Botetourt’s Senior Area Forester Joe Boswell, along with VDOF’s agency in Botetourt, have monitored the situation with the white pines. They’ve built a strong hypothesis linking the pathogen to white pine bast scale insects—tiny, black, round bugs without eyes and legs. The bugs live under lichens on the tree’s branches. Boswell’s agency developed the hypothesis that these small insects create the pathogen growing on white pines, causing the tree’s tissue to deteriorate.
“We are operating on a hypothesis right now,” Boswell explained. “We haven’t 100 percent determined that the pathogenic fungus is what we’re seeing in the pine trees around Botetourt. We think it probably is based on what we’re seeing but to say ‘yes’ we need to identify it in a lab.”
Two weeks ago, Boswell’s agency took samples from local pine trees that were dead or dying. After studying the samples, the agency’s Forest Health Manager Lori Chamberlin has still yet to determine if this fungal phenomenon is affecting Botetourt’s white pine mortality rate.
In an official statement, Chamberlin’s hypothesis states that while observing the monitoring plots in Eagle Rock, the agency found traces of what appears to be the pathogen in question. Chamberlin goes on to say, “I collected samples from symptomatic trees and dissected them in the lab. While I wasn’t able to find any live adult bast scales, I found what I am fairly confident is ‘shells’ leftover from previous scale molts. They were grouped together buried in branch nodes. So, while I can’t be 100 percent sure in my diagnosis, all evidence points to infestation by [the insects’] scale followed by infection by the secondary pathogen.”
Boswell made it clear that this is in no way harmful to the rest of the environment or to people who may come in contact with the infected trees. This situation is currently under investigation and further testing to determine whether this hypothesis can be proven or modified.
To stay up to date on news and events from the Virginia Department of Forestry, visit: dof.virginia.gov.