seventeen-year cicada country

Jim McKenney
Wed, 28 Jul 2004 13:38:50 PDT
At 01:33 PM 7/28/2004 -0400, Mark McDonough wrote:

>I'm wondering in your garden, do the cicadas cause harm to herbaceous
plants >and bulbs?

No, Mark, the seventeen year cicadas (evidently there are at least three
species involved) do no damage to herbaceous plants - they don't chew
leaves or anything like that. 

But yes, that is cicada damage you saw. Although the cicada damage is
pretty visible and thus dramatic, in fact it amounts to little more than
tip pruning.  Even low growing woody plants are typically ignored. They
seem to prefer oaks and black locusts around here, but just about any
non-coniferous woody plant will do. 

The damage they do is, on the whole, insignificant in the long run. But if
you have carefully pruned or shaped ornamental woodies or young fruit
trees, it's best to cover them during cicada season (it's over by now; the
cicadas you may have heard during your trip would have been annual
cicadas). The sites they choose on the twig for egg laying are permanently
damaged - if you know where to look, you can still see traces of the
grooves produced by the 1987 brood.

I've seen four cicada broods in my lifetime, and with luck will see at
least one more.  The first, in 1953, totally grossed me out: back then the
prevailing attitude was one degree of hysteria or another. In those days,
such was the level of public education and sophistication, people went
berserk spraying insecticides, crushing, killing and in general
overreacting. I remember being terrified of them at first. But just think
about the sort of movies being made back then (the various "invasion" and
"creature" movies produced in an atmosphere of near mass hysteria over the
way things might go in the then newly nuclear world) and maybe you'll
realize that the public was unwittingly primed to react badly. I remember
the air-raid drills we had back then - and this was about decade after the
Second World War, right here in the land of the free and the home of
terrified little kids cowering under their school desks.  

This year's brood came up into a somewhat kinder, gentler world: the media
did a great job of getting people ready - sensibly - this time. No longer
is the emergence of the cicadas a field day for control-nature-freaks and
purveyors of toxins. People have learned to see the cicadas in perspective,
to understand the true nature of the "damage" they do (for the most part,
insignificant), and in fact to enjoy their brief stay above ground as just
what it is: one of the earth's truly amazing wonders.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the seventeen-year
cicadas are gone but have been replaced by the annual cicadas; you don't
know one of summer's sweetest gifts if you have not dozed off to the
choruses of the annual cicadas.  

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