FLATWOODS -- Have the poplar trees growing near your home been dripping a sticky sap-like substance over your cars, flowerbeds or outbuildings?
If so, don't feel alone.
It's proving to be a banner year in West Virginia for the tuliptree scale, an insect pest that digs its head into the vascular systems of yellow poplars, or tulip trees, and sucks out the sap.
The ground beneath a poplar infested by tuliptree scales soon becomes moist with sticky "honeydew," as the excrement produced by the pests is delicately known, and the sugary substance often attracts ants and wasps.
"The dirt or pavement beneath a tree heavily infested by the tuliptree scale looks like it has recently been rained on," said Clint Ferguson, a forest health protection specialist for the state Department of Agriculture's Plant Industries Division. If the honeydew is not rinsed off, it produces a black, sooty mold that can be a chore to remove, as Ferguson has learned firsthand.
He recently parked his truck under an infested tree and waited too long to rinse off the resultant honeydew. "I had to scrub the truck with a de-greaser to get the mold off," he said.
State Department of Agriculture forest entomologist Tim Tomon said tuliptree scale infestations are an annual occurrence, but are generally limited to one or two areas within the state.
"This year, it's widespread, ranging from Parkersburg down into Raleigh and Mercer counties," Tomon said. "I've never had as many calls about any other insect in the three years I've been working here."
In central West Virginia counties like Braxton, Calhoun and Clay, where the tuliptree scale is most evident this year, "people are saying it's the worst they've ever seen it," said Ferguson.
What's the reason for this year's bumper crop of tuliptree honeydew?