Yellow poplar decline reported in Southwest Va. - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Yellow poplar decline reported in Southwest Va.

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RICHMOND (NEWS RELEASE) -- Recent declines in yellow-poplar in Lee, Wise and Scott counties have landowners concerned over the health of one of the most abundant and resilient hardwood trees in Virginia's forests.  While not entirely certain about the reason for the declines, Virginia Department of Forestry personnel believe they may stem from past insect infestations that previously went unnoticed. 

Yellow-poplar, or tulip poplar, is the most common hardwood tree in Virginia and one of the most important timber species in far southwest Virginia. Its rapid growth, straight trunk and wood properties, along with its abundance, make it an excellent tree for loggers to harvest in bulk and bring to the mills. Generally speaking, yellow-poplar is a resilient tree that does particularly well in moist cove habitats and fertile soils common to the lower slopes and valleys of the southern Appalachians. It also has very few insect and disease problems due to the fact that the leaves, bark and wood contain a host of chemicals that deter them. Even an invasive species like the gypsy moth, which can feed on more than 200 species of trees and shrubs, will completely avoid feeding on yellow-poplar.

"Two notable exceptions to this rule, however, are native insects known as the tulip tree scale and the poplar weevil," said Bill Miller, senior area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry.  "The scale is a tiny sap-sucking insect that produces a brown, waxy covering that looks something like a tortoise shell. Populations of these insects can occasionally reach such high levels in the forest that they can damage and even kill poplar trees, although this is rarely seen in southwest Virginia."

On the other hand, the poplar weevil is a defoliating insect that is particularly common in southwest Virginia, especially in Lee, Scott, Wise, Dickenson, Buchanan, Russell and Washington counties, along with adjacent counties in Kentucky and Tennessee. In most of these counties, as many as six to eight poplar weevil outbreaks have been documented over the last 25 years by forest health personnel with the Virginia Department of Forestry. Feeding by individual weevils in spring causes little damage to newly emerged leaves, other than a small brown patch. During outbreaks, however, millions of weevils can result in poplar trees being heavily defoliated. These outbreaks are often patchy in nature but can span large areas.

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