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Eastern hemlocks that have survived insect infestation have a story to tell

Oct. 2, 2014 – Will the eastern hemlock — a tree that has been around for 10,000 years, often lives 300 years, and can live as long as 800 years — be wiped out by an invasive cousin of the aphid known as the hemlock woolly adelgid? 

Maybe not.

When a Virginia Tech faculty member and her graduate student examined eastern hemlocks in six states from Massachusetts to Georgia, they had some unexpected results.

“We wanted to see if there was a silver lining in this otherwise doom-and-gloom story, so we examined the few eastern hemlock trees that have survived the insect infestation,” said Carolyn Copenheaver, associate professor of forest ecology in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “We found that in some environments, the trees can continue to grow.”

The research by Copenheaver, David Walker of Blacksburg, Virginia, then a forestry master’s student in the college, and Audrey Zink-Sharp, professor of sustainable biomaterials and an expert in wood cell wall architecture, appears in the Annals of Forest Science.

The hemlock woolly adelgid, a native of Asia, was first identified in North America on eastern hemlocks in Richmond, Virginia, in the early 1950s. It now infests hemlocks from the most southern stands in Georgia to near the U.S.-Canadian border and in some areas has killed 95 percent of the trees. (continue reading......)

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