Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sand hill Plums Again

Webs on Sand Hill Plums
The popularity of my past sand hill plum blog posts has verified my feeling that sand hill plum jelly is as popular as it was in Isaac Werner's day!  (See "Plum Harvest," 6-14-2912; "Sand Hill Plums," 3-1-2012 in the Blog Archives.) Last year a frost damaged the sand hill plum blooms, but this year the blooms were abundant and beautiful.  I intended to take some photographs at the peak of the blooming season, but they had already begun to fade when I stopped to photograph what I spied from my car...web worms!  At least, that is what I thought they were.

I was fascinated by the webs, but I was on my way to a program in town, so I snapped several pictures and hurried along.  However, I was curious to research what the webs contained.

I found a post in the Back to the Past Archives written by Lois Guffy in 2004.  She wrote:  "We also had to fight the webworms that came early and formed a web on the branches waiting until the plums were large enough to enter."  She added:  "How sad it was, to see a thicket loaded with luscious plums and find them full of wormholes.  The worms were usually found embedded inside of the seed."

Since my photographs on this page were taken April 11, 2015 and it would be several weeks before there were plums, I wondered if Lois Guffy could be talking about the same webs I had seem.  I continued my research.

Caterpillars beginning to emerge
According to the Kansas State University website, it is the Eastern Tent Caterpillar that likes the native sandhill plum and choke-cherry.  They only produce one generation a year, depositing egg masses on the host plant to spend the winter.  The larvae emerge from the eggs in mid- to late-March and build their own 'nests', from which they emerge to eat the tender new leaves of the host plant.  Eventually they become moths that spend months laying the eggs on twigs and branches for the next spring's larvae.  While they may defoliate the bushes, they are not the culprits responsible for laying eggs in the fruit.

On April 2, 1889, Isaac Werner wrote in his journal:  "Catepillars webbing and hatching out with the advent of plum leaves ready to devour as fast as growing.  I went over my plum bushes about yard and cleaned them off."  Whether Isaac simply wanted to keep his plum bushes attractive or he, like Lois Guffy, also blamed them for damaging the fruit, he definitely didn't want them on his plants!

Life stages of the Plum curculio
The pest more likely to have spoiled Lois Guffy's plums is the Plum curculio.  The females are partial to plums, peaches, apples, pears, and other pome and stone fruits as hosts for their eggs.  They are a weevil native to Kansas and other regions east of the Rocky Mountains.  With their ugly snout and the ridges on their wings, they are a creature hard to love, and the fact that they are as wicked about destroying fruits as their appearance suggests makes it easy to find them despicable.

As long as the Tent Caterpillars only eat a few leaves, which should stop by mid-May in time for the foliage to return and keep the bushes healthy, I believe I will ignore the silky webs and hope the birds and wasps keep the caterpillars under control.

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