Tuesday, August 02, 2005

About the Lily Beetle

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So...everyone knows about my on-going business with the unidentifiable red beetles who've made such a buffet of assorted lilies in my collection this year. I've spent some serious time Googling beetles, and trying to find information about this particular one. My hope, you may recall, was that I could find some other - more attractive plant - and grow it, with an idea towards distracting the red beetles and not having to kill them. Silly pacifist, tricks are for kids.

This past weekend, a woman smarter than I who wrote to the NY Times garden columnist and asked "Hey, what's this red beetle that's eating all my lilies?!" had her question answered. The red menace is known more formally as [never thought to Google this] the lily leaf beetle. They were unknown in the US until the early 1990's, when they suddenly "washed ashore" from Asia. It turns out there IS nothing to distract them with: lilies, every part of them, are what they want. SIGH.

In our great culture's further tampering with nature, a parasitic wasp has now been imported from Europe to deal with these beetles, as they apparently do nicely there. However, the particular wasp is not in wide stateside circulation yet, and so it will be necessary for we gardeners to hand-remove and smush these sneaky, often hidden beetles. They actually lay orange eggs on the underside of the lily leaves (thus their name), who then hatch and consume what remains of the plant, before settling down into the leaf litter for a winter's nap...so there's no co-existing with them if you like lilies.

There IS Neem, an insecticide which will kill the larvae and keep the adults away. Shame is, of course, that it will also kill any beneficial insect garden citizens it comes in contact with, and can also be toxic to fish. They describe it, though, as "eco-friendly" as "it is short-lived and harmless to birds, mammals and earthworms." But who wants to take that chance?

The beetles probably only came along from Asia with the lilies. So maybe trying to bring the lilies here was a bad idea. But for anyone who's enjoying mostly undamaged Oriental lilies this time of year (see above!), there's an argument to fall on largely deaf ears.

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