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 Real Pests! 

 Leptocneria reducta
the
Cape Lilac Tree Caterpillar  

 AKA White Cedar Moth  


 

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On each page of this site,the Star: Navigate page will take you to the respective "This Page" list.

  Hairy horrors table of contents:

 Leptocneria reducta - the neighbours from Hell!  
 [Includes snapshots - isn't nature wonderful!]

   Gallery of clickable thumbnails of tree damage pictures 

 Control  [Chainsaw Blitzkrieg vs the poisoner's arts] ..... And I think I'm right about this   

Councils and pollies are starting to count the cost
 Judging by recent comments in the West Australian newspaCaterpillars clobbered - click here to see full image and transcriptper:    

 Chooks won't eat them! ] 

     

 Speculations and musings  [A salute to Charles Darwin]

 Footnotes  [melia azedarach] 


 

 Reports from the frontline:
 E. in Bega NSW - radical thoughts like 'let's try Dipel!' and 'lets try and inject a full size tree with Rogor!'
 BarbaraMethodically methylating them
 Kezzavigorously vacuuming them
 Marilee - innovative firestorming - a'smoke on the water' [and in through the back door] technique [next stop: 'fire in the skylight!' ], citrus oil spray as olfactory camouflage and other gems of lateral thought
 What Marilee said next - rose dust, fresh lilac leaves in a bucket with cederwood oil drops [?!]
 And then - Exciting news! - hang on ... did she say ... "Baby powder?"
 Melanie -spray bottle magic:  distinctively diesel [the rural touch] or boiling the bug[ger]s
 Lynn -generic spray mixture for generic and hairy, black Caterpillars 
John -systematic - would-be systemic
Dee - disappointed
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Work in progress -  
    

 

 

 Leptocneria reducta the 'Cape Lilac Caterpillar'  

Also known as White Cedar Moth and previously designated as Lymantria aurivilli,  according to information from the web site of Don Herbison-Evans (donherbisonevans@yahoo.com ).
Check out Dr Herbison-Evans's excellent, rigorously scientific site for clear photos of specimens of each stage of the life cycle of the moth [as well as info on many other Australian lepidoptera].
The Queensland Dept. of Primary Industries site has a page about 'White Cedar Moth'
My work here is more in the nature of compassionate advice and solidarity [he he he] for those who have been rudely surprised - if not overwhelmed with shuddering horror and revulsion - by a sudden plague of hairy little caterpillars creeping in and out of drawers and cupboards in the house and seething up a tree in the garden and by moths laying eggs all over the kitchen windows.
These creatures seem to feed only on the tree known scientifically as Melia azedarach called Cape Lilac tree in Western Australia, known as White Cedar tree in the Eastern States of Oz but apparently called 'China Berry' [or Chinaberry] by US Americans   and the wee beasties appear to be very specifically adapted to life on, at and near that tree species only.  

Notable features of the larvae include the following:
  • The creatures - in my persistent observation - really do seem only to attack this one tree.
  • They hide during daylight hours and go up the tree once the sun has well and truly set. They return back down the trunk well before dawn although of course there are often stragglers in both these daily migrations.
  • They hide in leaf litter, clumps of dried grass, cracks in the ground, between overlapping sheets of fibre cement fencing, and under, in, on, at, and very near all manner of man made structures and they can get in through very small holes!
  • As they grow, the appearance of the caterpillars matches same size features of the bark including colouring and physical pattern. This makes them very hard to pick out on the tree even when you know what to look for. This fact is not readily apparent from the specimen pictures in Don Herbison-Evans's pictures gallery which must have been taken in good light, with flash probably, to get the best pictures for identification purposes..
  • In Western Australia, at least in the Perth Metro area, they seem to have no competent natural enemies. Birds don't eat them, nor do ants unless the larva's body has already been squashed and even then the ants don't seem too keen, and the local wasps can't find them.
  • The small ones tend to match in colour the grey-greenish bark of newer wood and they evade capture by spiders and other creatures by violently jackknifing their bodies when touched and dropping into space. They do not fall far because they have a line of silk attached to the bark and they come to a suspended stop in mid air within thirty centimeters or so. In effect they bungee jump to safety!
  • The very small ones do not leave the tree during the day, presumably surviving through these bungee escapes and not being big enough for serious predators to find or search for. I think they get from twig to twig in their search for food by employing the silken bungee and then being blown like a pendulum until they latch onto a new twig.
  • Medium sized larvae, which retain some of the earlier colouring and not yet covered in the full hairy coating, will use the bungee technique to get down past particularly fissured patches of bark and badly scarred knot holes.
  • The instinct of newly hatched larvae is first to eat what is left of their egg shells then to crawl upwards! I have seen this happen time and again from the rafts of eggs which used to get laid on the walls inside our house before we got wise to the ways of controlling these beasts.
  • Dr Herbison-Evans is about right in ascribing an 8 week life cycle to these things which means that if nothing has been done to control the little darlings then by about Christmas time the females of the second generation for the season are sticking their eggs to the walls in little grey patterned rafts of between 20 and 50 a piece. We are talking here of exponential population growth: if each female lays an average of 30 eggs and assume 50% female offspring, the first laying was by an adult newly emerged in September from a chrysalis which hibernated through the winter months and fertilised by a corresponding male. She will have about 15 female offspring. They will each have about 15 female offspring which will be laying in early November. Each of these will have about 15 daughters which will be mated and laying in late December. 15x15x15 = 3375.  Isn't nature wonderful!  Look at these potential numbers together with the fact that in Perth the indigenous wildlife won't touch them and you can see how just a few pioneers in September can have your tree muttering and rustling with the gentle pitter patter of shitfall. That's right, it is not munching that you hear but each second the sound of hundreds of little black particles bouncing down from leaf to leaf. You gaze up at your peril!

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 The following photos were taken by a colleague of mine who first became aware of the caterpillars when they invaded the outside toilet of her rented house whilst she was ensconced there in peaceful meditation one summer evening. [Outside dunnies are a common feature of old houses in Perth.]

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 Caterpillar Carpet - Click to see larger version 24KBA picture of well developed larvae, about 3 of 4 weeks old I think, some of which will be about ready to pupate. Click on this picture for a closer view.

     Or click here for a large image [186KB] to get a better view of all their lovely little legs and hairy bodies! Hint: you can adjust your browser's zoom setting [try 200%] to get maximum enjoyment from this portrayal of nature's beauty. You will need to reset the zoom setting afterwards though.

 As evening falls, the creatures in this photo are coming out from under the house in their hundreds. This wood framed house is on stumps - the metal of a termite cap can be seen at the bottom of the left end of the white wall - and obviously several thousand have been hiding out under there through the day.

 Probably many others climbed the walls each morning and roosted in the roof space, or snuck inside and hid in cupboards or under beds or in drawers. Sam who took these photos said it was finding them in her bed which really annoyed her!   Click for enlargement - 49KB

 Here is another view! [A 49 KB enlargement will load if you click the pic.] These photos were taken with an ordinary snapshot camera so the focus is not great, but Alfred Hitchcock would have fallen in love with these beasties. I think there is scope for a movie of the Attack of the Killer Caterpillars! type, especially in view of their habit of only coming out in the dim light of late evening. Then the mind easily amplifies the itchy-squidgy potential horror of a veritable carpet of caterpillars seething over anything and anyone who gets between them and their tree.

Click here for 90KB enlargementThis picture of Sam's, taken looking up into the Cape Lilac tree closest to her back door, does not seem to signify much until you realise that by late summer when the picture was taken it should not be possible to see the sky through the branches of the tree whose trunk is at upper left. In effect the caterpillars have eaten half a hundredweight of leaves!

The full size picture [90KB] allows you to see that the straight branch coming from the bottom of the photo, which belongs to a second, younger tree, has been 'skeletonised' and this is how many of these trees currently look if you take a walk around older Perth suburbs in the late summer.
I recently [Feb 2003] took a walk around the back streets of Narrogin, a Western Australian wheat belt town, and saw no such damage. My guess is that the caterpillars will arrive there in the next year or so, travelling as pupas carried in packing materials or in the boots of cars or in caravans and trailers. 

See also my gallery of clickable thumbnails of tree damage pictures.

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 Control   Navigate this page

 If eradication is what you want, and it probably is mandatory for the owners of rental properties, then simply remove every Cape Lilac tree from your property! This could cost hundreds of dollars depending on the size, number and locations of the trees. It does not solve problems caused by infested trees on neighbouring properties. [You would need some copper nails for that.  Oooh ahhh, did I say that!?]  It is possible to have a whole tree fumigated at a cost of $50 to $100 per tree depending on size and location, but this is only going to work for one season, and doesn't solve any problem from next door's trees.

Control methods not involving the use of a chain saw include the following:

  • Cut to the chase - this is what I do ["did" is now the correct word]:  buy a can of outdoor surface barrier insecticide spray. I prefer the Mortein brand product because it doesn't smell as bad as the Baygon Outdoor & Spider surface spray and the Mortein seems to have bigger droplets so there is less drift and more wetting of the surface. I could be wrong about the latter point though. There was a while there when I thought the Baygon was more lethal, to the bugs if not to people, but I'm not sure about it and I don't like the smell.
    So what so you do with it?  Spray, from a distance of about 15 cm [six inches?], a band right around the trunk[s] of the tree[s] above the normal hand reach of any kids who are likely to be touching the trees in your yard.
    Do this once a week through the non winter months. Maybe less is OK - we are not talking rocket science here - but certainly no less than once a fortnight! - and start in September. Do not assume that because you cannot find traces of the bugs that they are not there. If you have seen adult moths flapping at your windows at night then they are there. This method will not eradicate the caterpillars but it sure as hell kills a lot of them, making them so ill they cannot get up the tree.
    I am assuming that insect larvae do not feel pain like we do. I discuss this sort of thing on other pages of my website but here it is inter species warfare! This method keeps them well under control and the trees provide lots of shade through the heat of summer when we need it. [We have 4 kids and my wife does family day care at home so we need a large shade area in the summer].
  • To physically blitz a plague which you have just found out about - and it is quite common for people not to know anything is going wrong until a tree is just about defoliated for the first time in January. Get damp sacking or old sheets and lay them around the base of the trunk in the evening. When the creatures come down the tree before Sun-up a significant number of them will burrow down under the damp cloth and roost there. Before evening that day, take the cloth or sacking to an open space, preferably a concrete driveway or the like, and commit mayhem upon the buggers. The best thing to do is probably to drown them in a big bucket of detergent and water. Simply squashing several hundreds of caterpillars is not something a normal person will enjoy and spraying that many creatures at close quarters with aerosol insecticide is expensive and probably not safe because the executioners and gawking bystanders end up breathing the fumes. Murphy's Law guarantees that bit. Repeat this treatment daily until you find no evidence of fresh larvae in the cloths in the mornings. Then adopt an on-going control method.
  • Using damp cloth in this manner is not good on a day in day out basis. It is too labour intensive and one gets heartily sick of squashing and drowning caterpillars. Plus the old sheets and sacking start to stink like hell and look utterly gruesome.
  • I tried creating a ring of sticky resin around the trunk using fibre glass resin to which had been added only a very small amount of hardening catalyst. I had been informed that if not enough hardener was added to fibre glass resin then one was left with a hideously sticky goo which was no use for anything and probably poisonous to boot. This sounded ideal for my purposes so I tried it to see if the larvae would all get stuck to it. Answer: No! .... a resounding failure mainly because the resin soaked into the bark.     [Thinks:  there could be a commercial opportunity here for someone able to invent a powerful specific insecticide mixed with a sticky resin .....]
  • Maybe long strings of fly paper wrapped around the trunk, as recommended below by Dr Herbison-Evans, might do the trick. I somehow doubt it though. The stuff will dry out fairly quickly and also because the bark of the lower trunk is very fissured, the bugs will be able to crawl between the fly paper and the trunk. Too labour intensive.
  •   Perhaps some inventive soul can come up with a combination of the above methods. Perhaps a physical barrier like the downward facing hollow cone shapes that used to be fitted to ships' mooring cables. The problem would be to avoid ring barking the tree as one attempted to even out the surface of the bark and at the same time to get some plastic material to conform to the shape of the tree so as to prevent the caterpillars from getting between the device and the trunk. That way they would have to crawl out under the cone shape and back over the lip of it. If this was covered in contact insecticide, their fates would be sealed. Dissenters could use double sided sticky tape on the underside of the cone instead.
  • Apparently chooks won't eat them - not even bantams. see below.

 The Western Australian Department of Agriculture has produced a gardening advisory page dealing with L reducta:
White cedar moth : a serious pest of Cape lilac trees They are to be commended for a comprehensive and detailed discussion of the beasties and what to do about them but I do not share their positive outlook. I think that in the long run it is all going to mean too much use of pesticides close to homes, gardens and the play areas of children.

For another, excessively sanguine, view on the situation, here is what Don Herbison-Evans has to say about controlling these little buggers:
"Despite the total defoliation of a tree by these Caterpillars every year, affected White Cedar trees seem to thrive quite happily. Presumably this is because they are deciduous, and so would lose their leaves anyway. Nevertheless, if the Caterpillars invade your home etc., and this is too much to bear, then at this stage there is little can be done! But next year think of doing something about it before the tree gets completely defoliated. You might try spraying the tree trunk with Surface Spray Contact Insecticide (fine until it rains, then you have to do it again), and/or wrapping the trunk in old fashioned sticky flypaper. You may need a fair bit of it. But basically the Caterpillars are harmless and quite fun to have around: live and let live, if you can".

"Fun to have around" the man says! Yeah, well maybe they are in a Pythonesque sort of way.....in his particular parallel universe......  I guess it adds a quaint and rustic diversion to Christmas lunch to have tiny little wormy things abseiling down from the ceiling into the salad. This happened at our place the first season they came to our back yard. We knew nothing then about L. reducta. There had been just dozens of moths flapping against the kitchen windows and laying eggs in and around the back of the house in mid December and the Better Half let it be known that Insecta were not appropriate guests for a Christmas day with her side of the family coming for lunch. Perhaps I would have been wiser to just wholeheartedly agree rather than make light of her dire predictions and at least to have been seen to be making more efforts, however futile, towards keeping the moths out of the house. As it was her predictions about the capabilities of the insects proved accurate and even though none of the human guests seemed terribly worried it was yours truly who got blamed for it all!

It was a couple of weeks after that fiasco that I started to surmise about a connection between the moths and rapidly spreading areas of damaged leaves and leafless twigs at the tops of the two Cape Lilac trees. It was only the sound of shitfall in the quiet of a hot night as I went to get something from the back shed and the sight of some stray caterpillars low down on the trunk in the light of my torch which allowed the concept of nocturnal insect lifestyle to link the phenomena together.

Dealing with these very far from cuddly little animals has been instructive in that it has given me some insights into the relationships between insects and plants and Darwinian evolution and what camouflage is all about. That is all I can say in favour of the beasts!

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 Speculations and musings   Navigate this page

The Tree
Before these beasties came to town, [my town: Perth Western Australia], all the coastal plain and the South West, as well as the Wheat Belt river valleys, was a perfect environment for the White Cedar/Cape Lilac tree. It grows and sets viable seed like a weed. At least some birds eat its fruit and spread seeds, people like it for its shade in summer - and being deciduous it lets light into a garden in winter- and the flowers are fragrant and ornamental in the early spring. So people were actually buying saplings in garden nurseries despite the fact that many a vacant lot around town has the trees and there are always vigorous and robust seedlings sprouting around them. The seeds will germinate in just about any damp spot. They will even out-compete well watered Kykuyu grass! Were it not for the arrival of the dreaded caterpillars, this tree might have become the major forest species in much of the south west of WA. replacing the ill fated Jarrah and outstripping the other native species which have all been heavily logged or cleared for farm land. To put it simply: Melia azedarach was a weed whose time had come!  [See below for further observations and speculations about the structure of the tree]

The Bug
Leptocneria reducta, the hairy little neighbour from hell, is going to put a stop to all that. Well that is my guess anyway. The moths are spreading far afield. For example a work colleague of mine lives in Gidgegannup about 50 Km northeast from Perth and he has one tree on his property [which he planted, poor fool...] and he reckons that there is no other for many kilometres around. [He reckons the closest is on the grounds of the Noble Falls Tavern on the Toodyay [pron: two jay] road.] Yet it became infested in the summer of 2001-02 and, despite all his efforts and it being just a small tree, the bugs came back in spring - late September 2002.

[Interpolation in autumn [Aust] concerning Bob's tree in March 2003. He thinks the bugs have disappeared due to the dry and very hot conditions and two successive hot spells. It will be interesting to see if they reappear in September 2003 or some time later.]

And, one year later [writing 10 March 2004], an update on Mr Cook's tree and its parasites: Yes the bugs did reappear but much later in the season, after Xmas I think he said. One thing Bob has discovered is that none of his chooks will eat the caterpillars!. He has several varieties of hen including some fiesty bantams and, although they will scratch the caterpillars out into the open, none of his fowls will eat them. Well I wouldn't either but it says something about the bugs if chickens will not eat them. Maybe they smell bad to domestic fowl. Or maybe there is just something about the look of them that puts birds off. Possibly they have some warning colouring visible only in ultra violet light which I understand many birds can see. Whatever the reason it does seem to dispose of the possibility that would-be plantations of Cape Lilac could be protected by flocks of hens. What about guinea fowl?

One can guess that the moths can fly a couple of kilometres in a night but a more powerful dispersion would occur when moths set out following the scent of a tree but then get blown way off course by powerful westerlies or easterlies. After being blown downwind a long way, they would find a calmer spot to rest. When the wind abates and changes direction the smell of the nearest tree up wind would attract them to it.

Be all that as it may, the moths would have only bats to contend with at night and the larvae have nothing to contend with except the occasional fussy human and the daily migrations up and back down the nearest Melia azedarach tree.

He he he .... at 10:01 am on Saturday 5 March 2005, there arrived from Mr Cook the following message with the subject heading "Caterpillars":

    "Just thought that I would let you know that the Cape Lilac is being decimated by the elusive beasts.

    It became so bad that last night I used the surface spray on the tree to a height of 2 feet and for a 1.5m radius around the tree on the ground. I thought that there may be a few deaduns this morning. WRONG!!!!

    I estimate about 2000 deaduns. Incredible!

    If you had told me that there would be so many I would not have believed it. I assume that there are still more so I shall reapply the Baygone surface spray again late this afternoon. It has rained during the night and most of the morning, thus the new application is probably required.

    As I told you they were in the tree but in the last two days the entire top 1.5m has been striped of foliage. Bastards!

    Enjoy a relaxing long weekend."

A Darwinian viewpoint
It is these diurnal feeding journeys and the apparently exclusive dependence on the one plant for food which characterise Leptocneria reducta. It may be that in eastern Australia or northern Queensland or somewhere in the islands north of Australia the moth larvae have other plants they can live on but from their behaviour in the trees in Perth it looks like the moth species has adapted exclusively to the Cape Lilac. Various surmises occur to me about the evolutionary history of the bugs.

  • The nocturnal feeding and daytime hiding of the caterpillars indicate that wherever they originally came from they were routinely subject to a fairly heavy predation by birds and/or insects which hunt only in the day. Given the strictness with which the larvae conform to the nocturnal habit, it seems very likely that it is only in WA that they do not have a competent predator.
  • It is hard for human eyes to pick out caterpillars on the bark of the trees even in broad daylight [Discussed more below]. The chunks of fissured bark often display a pattern of regular wrinkles and the segments of larvae bodies blend in with these. Other features of larvae hair colouring blend in with colours of the bark and this seems to be so at each size the caterpillars grow through. This is clear evidence in favour of the theory of an efficient predator which hunts by sight as well as scent.
  • My poisoning technique provides a source of slow moving, sick larvae still on the tree in daylight that any bird with good eyesight could see. The fact that I have never seen any magpies or magpie larks, nor honeyeaters nor wagtails having a go at these daytime stragglers makes me think that for birds the larvae are not edible, perhaps because of toxins retained in their bodies from the leaves they eat. If this is so then it seems that the main predator of the caterpillars is some kind of carnivorous, hunting wasp.
  • At the page for M. azedarach on the web site titled Forest Farming Species Descriptions [authors Tony Wardill & Jody Neal] it is written that "This species has many natural predators including green tree frogs and unless there is a serious outbreak these usually catch up with the caterpillar populations." Not in WA they don't! - I notice, in passing, that nowhere have I heard mention of cane toads eating these caterpillars. WHAT a pity! Recent news [southern winter 2006] has it that cane toads have advanced across the Northern Territory to within a few score kilometres of the WA border. Any time now those buggers will be upon us as well!
  • Leptocneria reducta could possibly have specialised in eating only Melia azedarach either before or after it evolved the nocturnal feeding strategy. It is most likely however that the nocturnal strategy evolved soon after specialisation on the one tree or at the same time. The reason for this is that the caterpillars had to evolve the ability to return to the correct tree species which presumably required the evolution of specific chemical sensitivities. Once the species was able to correctly find the M. azedarach trees in preference to others then predation by daylight hunters could quickly eliminate caterpillars with the propensity to forage by daylight and such predation would also select for the specialised camouflage the larvae now exhibit.
  • Certain native wasps - 'paper wasps' - seem to show keen interest in the trees when the caterpillars are about but do not seem to be able to find ones that have come to a stop on the lower part of the tree because poisoned. The wasps do seem able to zero in on such caterpillars after they have been squashed which makes me think they can smell the larvae but not very clearly, and cannot see them clearly. This suggests that they may be able to see or smell the line of silk left behind by the younger larvae. The silk might be highly reflective in the ultra violet. It also seems to me that their normal [Eastern States] wasp predators have eyes and ganglia better adapted to the appearance of the larvae. Will Western Australian wasps evolve this ability?
  • Ants cannot deal with the hairs covering the larvae bodies. This looks to be the reason why so many kinds of Australian caterpillars are so hairy. The hairs provide a very simple but effective mechanical obstacle which prevents the ants getting a hold on their bodies proper. Maybe the hairs also have some of the toxic chemicals present in the leaves of the plant. Certainly the article about the moths and larvae by the Qld Dept of Primary Industry makes much of the fact that many people are adversely affected by contact with the hairs. Some of the hairs are much longer than the majority but this is not normally easy to see. Spray them with an aerosol and they become readily apparent though! I suspect the longer hairs provide an early warning trigger for the larvae's jackknife body-twitching defensive reflex which is exhibited by larvae of all sizes.
  • Another question which arises from all this is: What, if any, advantage accrues to the tree itself from the presence of these insect parasites? Leptocneria reducta have evolved a way of dealing with the toxins present in the leaves the purpose of which, as with all the chemicals that plants produce which act on animal nervous systems or metabolic processes, is to discourage or disable herbivorous insects and higher animals. This tolerance for the M. azedarach toxins allowed the larvae to access an abundant food supply without competition from other leaf munchers. This must have been a significant event in the evolutionary history of the species. In fact it may well have been the key event leading to differentiation from the rest of its genus.
  •   Leptocneria reducta manage at least 4 full generations per year in WA, maybe more in Qld or NSW. Melia azedarach on the other hand needs at least a few years to reach maturity sufficient to set seeds. If the tree takes 4 years, say, to reach this minimum level of maturity, the pest is life-cycling 16 times faster. I predict this means the parasite will always outpace any adaptation of the tree so the tree species will never rid itself of the parasitic insect.
  • On a different tack: one can infer certain ideas from the experience of searching out these damned caterpillars on the bark of their favourite tree. The fact that one can look at a patch of bark, look away, look back and then and only then see one of them for the first time is clear evidence for the idea that human brains construct the experience of seeing. That is to say the mental image is something made by and in  the brain and not some kind of metaphysical 'touching' of the external reality by an inner observer. The latter idea is a naive view of things, called naive realism, which occurs naturally to us and is how we normally think and talk in the course of our workaday experience, but it cannot explain how and why we are fooled by camouflage such as that of the larvae of L. reducta. [I discuss these ideas elsewhere.]
    ....to be continued. 

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 Reports from the front line

I have received emails from people lamenting their fate and extolling the virtues of this website which provides moral support and much needed recognition of their trials and sufferings in the battle of resistance against these voracious, furry pests. Below are the printable ones.
And see! The war is just beginning:

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What E. said:

Subject: Melia caterpillar problem in Bega NSW Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005

Hi Mark

My children's property in Bega NSW has a major caterpillar problem. I've researched as much as I can and have come to the conclusion that Dipel may be a useful agent against them. However the tree in question is 40 ft high and is just too big to spray and even a Dipel spray may not get higher than say 10-15 feet above the ground and while it will have an impact it wont be an overall one. Have you have ever tried tree injection? Using a systemic chemical - something like Rogor could get the poison up to the top of the tree? So far I haven't seen any use of tree-injection as a control technique. I am curious if you have tried it yet?

cheers  E.

and my reply:

Hello E.,

You are fighting the Cape Lilac curse ... and, I hate to say it but, your efforts are probably doomed. As I said on my web page about the Leptocneria reducta, they don't seem to have any competent predators in WA and only expensive, all-of-tree spraying or chain saw surgery at about 2ft/3ft from the ground will fix the buggers. They do seem to experience population ebbs and surges here in various spots in Perth but I think that is just a reflection of peculiarities of local micro-climate/weather conditions; they don't like extreme heat and become very slow in cold wet weather.

Your idea of tree injection is very interesting. I have no idea how much poison you would need or what would be the best sort. In a big tree I imagine you would need a fair bit but I know nothing of the technology. If you do it, I would be very interested to hear about your method and about the outcome.

I spent several years controlling the critters in our two trees but last spring I got totally fed up with the effort of spraying around the trunks with surface barrier spray every few days. We had our trees chopped to about a metre above ground and never will they grow again, while I live here anyway. It was just too much to be spraying barrier spray and inevitably breathing some in each time, or getting it on my hands, so that, coupled with the pruning I had to do of the seasons new shoots each autumn, caused me to rage against the fate that planted them in our garden. Some hundreds of dollars worth of lopping and carting later, and all we have are the stumps which keep trying to sprout. One of these days I will find a place that sells copper nails and then it will be all over for them.

Meanwhile of course, hundreds of seeds left from past seasons keep sprouting up at all sorts of odd places in the front and back yards. Melia azedarach has got to be one of the toughest and most prolific weeds on the planet! They will never die out.

'E.' never responded thereafter.

 


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What Barbara said:

Subject: hairy caterpillars  Date: Wed, 28 Dec 2005 17:10:02 +1000

Hello Mark, I have just finished reading your article on the neighbours from hell and would like to tell you how I deal with these insidious creatures.

I am in the middle of a large invasion at present and use plain old metholated spitits in a pump action spray bottle bought from woolworths, which kills them within 10 seconds of being sprayed.

The cedar tree was already full grown when I moved here 5 years ago and no one could tell me how to get rid of the infestation so it has been trial and error, and since I am against commercial sprays etc and use metho quite a lot around the house I tried that and found it worked a treat.The pests died almost instantly.

I have been very diligent for the past three days spraying the trunk of the tree and the outer walls of my house twice a day with the undiluted spirits, and it looks like a win to me. The base of the tree is inches deep with dead bodies. I hope this helps.

Cheers  Barbara

And my reply:

Hello Barbara,

I finally got around to looking at my geocities/yahoo email box. Like many others I do not have my everyday email address on my web pages any more because of the spam makers.

Thanks for taking the trouble to contact me. I am no expert in relation to caterpillars, nor to anything much else on this wonderful planet. It is nice to feel that something I have done may have helped somebody else, even if only to let you feel like your way of doing things is truly as good as anybody else's - which it sounds like it could be.

You have left out some key details of your method, such as when do you spray? And does it only work if you spray directly onto the caterpillars' bodies or are they killed by walking over bark that was recently sprayed? I would have thought that they would not walk onto recently sprayed surfaces so that probably answers my question, in which case you would have to go out each evening after sunset and wait around for a fair while. Is this true? Also, is there much residual smell of meths, and if so how strong is it and how long does it last?

I think I need to include a mention about fire safety however. For example your method should not be tried by smokers unless they are prepared to leave their fags and lighter or matches inside the house for the duration of the treatment. I have no idea how likely it is that a spray of metho could catch fire from a cigaret but any amusement or deeply fulfilling sense of accomplishment resulting from incineration of the enemy could possibly be spoilt if a neighbour took exception to the proceedings..... It would be rather hard to explain away use of a flame-thrower during a total fire ban period, however inadvertent. :-) And the insurance company might not pay up if the house caught fire! Considerations like this could mean that your method is not the most appropriate for tenants of a rental property. For anyone prepared to take proper precautions however it may be just the ticket!

As for our trees, we took the 'cowards' way out and had them severely cut back: to about one metre above ground level. My wife Glenda does family day care at our place so I am required to keep my things as tidy as possible, which doesn't come all that naturally to me. Also, it just got to be a real drag spraying the Mortein stuff around the trees every week. Added to which I was having to prune the trees each autumn to prevent them getting so big again that we would have to pay hundreds of dollars getting them lopped. A pity really because Cape Lilacs ['White Cedars' to Eastern Staters :-] certainly give a huge area of good shade in summer so long as the bugs are kept well under control. When we first moved into this house in 1994 nobody in WA had heard of Leptocneria reducta, as far as I know anyway. Certainly neither my wife nor I had ever heard anything, and my father Charles Peaty has been a professional forester all his working life. He would certainly have mentioned something about it. I think maybe it was the year 2000 or 2001 that we first became aware of them.

Regards   Mark Peaty

NB: Barbara never responded.


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What Kezza said:

Subject: caterpillar mayhem; Date: Sat, 07 Jan 2006

hi there!

just been at your caterpillars website. We have been invaded (like mini absailing commando-style) by hundreds of the teeny tiny caterpillars - it's driving me insane, but I was quite relieved to find your site and realise I'm NOT ALONE! Many thanks, I shall go on with courage now as I walk around the house with the vacuum cleaner sucking them up.

The little critters have had several blogs dedicated to the struggle to rid myself of them...

and my reply:

Hi Kezza,

I finally got around to looking at my geocities/yahoo email box. Like many others I do not have my everyday email address on my web pages any more because of the spam makers.

I'm glad my web page could provide some smidgeon of reassurance about the caterpillars. In truth though they can get much worse! How do I know that? Well it's the time of year: there is time for at least another generation to be produced by the cohort that you discovered recently bungying down from your ceilings!

My guesstimates, from the many egg 'rafts' I have seen laid on our back windows, on walls and on leaves of the cape lilac tress that USED TO flourish in our back yard, is that on average each successful female lays about 30 which means - assuming equal males an females - that the increase in each generation is by a factor of about 15! That is true exponential growth. As I say at obsessive and boring length on my pages, there are no natural predators of these creatures in WA.

Your might be advised therefore to take a more serious look at if and where caterpillars are roosting near, under, in, on, or up-in-the-roof-of your house. If there are cape lilac trees close to your house then you can be sure that by the end of the summer THOUSANDS of the little bas***s will have spun cocoons in any protected, dark places they can find.

If you are renting the house you are in it might be worth seeing if the landlord will supply Mortein barrier outdoor spray [I plug that one as the least obnoxious yet very effective] so you can spray round the trunk every week, also around the base parts of the house closest to the tree/s. If it is your family's house then I suggest KILL THE TREE/S. There are plenty of other nice shade trees that can be planted strategically in a garden.

I had an email from somebody else recently about these bugs. .......... She is extolling the virtues of spraying meths [methylated spirits] onto the bugs, around the tree trunks and around the bottom of the walls of her house. I wouldn't particularly recommend that to everybody, especially strongly addicted smokers. I'm going to put my warning onto my web page

 


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What Marilee said:

Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2006 05:05:49

Subject: 101 ways to kill a furry grub

Dear Mark,

I have just finished reading your website on furry little beasties that munch up Cape Lilic Trees. I was seeking info on how to get rid of them. Tonight I was confronted by a sea of black furry critters everywhere. Right through the patio, up the fences, walls back and front of the house. Hell even sneaking in.

I dug a pit right next to the back door to catch excess rain water. You bet I came up with a 101 ways to kill an ugly furry wiggle bloody critter. let's say I sort of swept up millions of them into the pit, drowned them with water and when they started coming out, got the Metho and poured ontop of the water. Found my lighter and set them ablaze. Bugger me dead if some of them still crawled out. Well! I found a bottle of Citrus Oil and sprayed that on top.

Nearly eradicated myself didn't I!!!! That's right. A few hot spots and the Oil wooshed up like a bomb. The house was smoked out because I forgot to shut the door because I could think about was how to get rid of those fluufy grubs.

Not even my big fishes in the pond snacks on them nor my Lizards that run around freely. Good for nothing horriable messy little buggers they are gonna keep me thinking what way I can come up with next to kill them.

I have to now have operation kill a grub now maybe endorse the local kids to have a competion on how many they can kill in one hit.

Critus Oil I sprayed and they do not like it, maybe I can paint the whole tree trunk so they will think it is an orange tree. That will confuse them.

Right loved your site ok.

regards  Marilee

and my reply:

Hello Marilee

Thanks for writing to me. I always enjoy reading how other people are surviving the onslaughts of these little monsters.

Yep! you've got a plague! It's a humbling and educational, not to say horrifying, frustrating, and ghastly, experience overall.

If you don't mind the mess and you have some old sheets you don't mind messing to destruction, then draping some old sheets around the base of the trunk of your tree and wetting them a bit so that they will be attractively cool and almost dry by next morning will make a trap for lots of the caterpillars. The creatures will hide under the sheet when they come back down the tree just before dawn. Of course you still have to squish them when you shake them off the sheet, or shake them into a bucket of something nasty.

I rather think it best to avoid attempts at incineration, however satisfying it might to be at first. It would be a shame to burn your house down just for a few thousand bugs :-) A lady named Barbara emailed me a while ago and said that straight metho in a little plastic spray bottle, seemed to work really well. I think she means that you have to actually spray on them to kill them. She also said that spraying methylated spirits around the foot of outer wall of her house seemed to make a good barrier.

I think that spraying metho onto a building is not a safe thing to do.. The stink and potential fire danger make it a bit risky I think, although may be not so much if your's is a brick house. My method, as I say on my web pages, involves spraying around the trunk with Mortein barrier outdoor spray. As they walk over it, many of them get sick and die. This method can control them but not eradicate them.

We live in Bayswater, near Maylands, and as I ride to work in the mornings I can see about half a dozen big Cape Lilac trees where all of the leaves have been eaten by the bugs. [Note: this is written late February 2006] This is now the time for them to become rampant - after 4 generations this season I think, with about 30 eggs per laying by each female. That means 15 offspring, or thereabouts, for each moth that reaches maturity, so the population now should be about 15 x 15 x 15 x 15 x the number that survived through winter! It's bloody mind boggling!

All the best with your warfare,

What Marilee said next:

27/02/2006 23:13

Re: 101 ways to kill a furry grub

Dear Mark,

Many thanks for your reply. I have passed your website onto a friend who is an expert in trees. Jonnathon Ebb of Fremantle (consultant arboricultist) Do you know him?

This will interest you I found that the Rose dust for ants and cockroaches is a real killer to them ugly black creepies. I watched them for hours while they walked through the dust in the thousands last night. They are really stupid bugs because they all followed one another. All dead by morning. They also do not like sawdust from chipboard because that made some die.

Have set traps like fresh lilac leaves in a bucket with cederwood oil drops. Boy did they go for that. I think this is good to attack them out of places they should not be.

Talk about a assignment in coming with ways to kill a bug.

Next door tree is really furry almost to the very top. My poor tree has not one leave left. I used to love that old tree it is a 100 years old. next year I am going to put a thick ring of a mix of sawdust and rose dust. I will also make a ring of some kind out of a tyre so the climb to getup there in the first place will make it hard. paint that with a grease. Yep! sure is a 101 ways is what this is.

Ok just saw two come inside, the toilet flush works good. Use the ideas if you like I don't mind ok Mark.

Well thanks see ya!

regards ................Marilee

Hi Marilee,

thanks for the bulletin! No I have not heard of Jonnathon Ebb, but if he is a tree man then All Power To Him! He may know my father Charles Peaty who has been a forestry consultant, plantation manager, and generally a forester for many decades. He is getting on now, 82 years old, but still regularly drives all over the south west every week just about, inspecting plantations, organising maintenance, ferrying investors and other clients around. He has no intentions of retiring as far as I can see.

I think the way you are carrying on, you stand a good chance of becoming WA's expert in the fight against these caterpillars! Keep up the good work!... for as long as it pleases you to do so anyway. I am very happy to add reports of your experiences, whether successful or not, to my web page. They are informative and entertaining, if I may say so. :-) What more could a website builder want!

Regards ------ Mark Peaty 

 


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 And then - Exciting news!

12/03/2006 23:13 - Re: 101 ways to kill a furry grub

 Dear Mark,

Well thought you should be clued up to the latest of the rotten little grubby things. I WIN! I WIN! How about this? after all I tried it all boiled down to good old baby powder spread around. Sufficated the life out of them, it stopped them from trying to come inside. Very safe stuff to use and to think I nearly choked, poisoned, blew myself up and swept and swept until all hours of the morning getting rid of them. Now don't forget the big hole I dug for a trap, in the end BABY POWDER turns out to the product of war.

Have to tell you it had been almost a week since I seen one crawl, they either died or decided my neighbour across the road (she's got one of those trees behind her house in neighbours garden) the pastures are greener and a better way of living. Yes! she nearly had a fit when some were spotted trying to break in.

Moths! crikey! seen some of them lately and all I see in them is the black furry war again as soon as my tree gets well enough to sprout. No worries I've got BABY POWDER heaps of it the new choke and croak it stuff!.

Well keep up the good work ok. next time the camera will be declared as witness to my little private black furry war. See Ya!

regards ............ Marilee  

 

14 March 2006 very early AM.
Hmmm, I am a little suspicious about the coincidences of no-leaves left on the tree, Marilee's previous message saying 'rose dust for ants and cockroaches is a real killer', and sudden dearth of little hairy hasslers.Still, I have to give Marilee top marks for dedication and enthusiasm. There are now quite a few trees totally skeletonised around Bayswater & Mount Lawley. And for the first time the large Cape Lilac next to Maylands station car park is showing signs of invasion. Which means of course that the real 'early bird' park-and-ride commuters are likely to pick up a hairy passenger or two. Especially if they park right under the tree.

 


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 As at March 2006, it is at least 18 months since we had the Cape Lilac trees in our back garden lopped down to a metre or so above ground. They regularly sprout very vigorous shoots from the sides of the stumps. I treat these now with undiluted glyphosate ['roundup' or 'zero' but Bunnings now has a generic 'Brunnings' brand which is half the price of those two]. One has to be very careful doing this near other plants one wants to keep. I have learned that, when in doubt about if I accidentally touched a 'good' plant or not, AMPUTATE!

I use a paint brush to apply it and use a cut-away plastic 2 litre milk bottle as 'paint' pot. This has a handle for easy and safe portability and by which I can hang it up on a hook when finished. The brush can remain standing inside this cut-away bottle for storage so the chance of getting splashed or dribbled with the glyphosate is minimised.

So there is basically no Melia azedarach leaf matter growing in my garden and none of our immediate neighbours on any side have a tree in their gardens. Yet this eveing, as yesterday and the day before, I sprayed or squashed at least a dozen of these moths which were hanging around the back door, due to the light over the door which gets left on for long hours. Clearly they are wanderers which have migrated well away from their tree of origin. I think there must be this level of infestation of nearly all the Perth Metropolitan Area now. Hmmmm. They are not going to go away anytime soon I think.

 


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What Melanie said:

Sun, 18 Jun 2006 15:50:11 +0800

Hi Mark

I have read your website aand found it quite frustrating that nothing will get rid of these critters except for cutting them down. I have found 2 ways. Diesel in a spray bottle or boiling water for the ones you can reach!! Ta da!!

Cheers

Melanie

York, WA

 


 

 Fear, loathing and hyperbole!Here is an item from page 2 ['Inside cover'] of the West Australian newspaper, 28 November 2006

"Caterpillars clobbered"

"Following Labor MP John Hyde's B-grade horror movie description of discovering furry black caterpillars nibbling his toes inside his running shoes, a sequel has emerged.

The City of Stirling has decided on a $ 141,000 shock-and-awe campaign against the Cape Lilac trees where the caterpillars breed.

Mr Hyde took a complaint about the thousands of caterpillars and white cedar moths that go to and from the trees and infest the neighbourhood around them.

Chemically treating or removing the Capes were the only options. The council will rip out the 354 in the city.

"Cedar moths are right up there with cane toads and sparrows as dangerous threats to WA," Mr Hyde said, applauding the decision."

The journalist has had himself a little fun - 'shock-and-awe' - indeed ... Mr John Hyde the pollitician in question is engaging in hyperbole, of course. The caterpillars are a gross affront to good taste [an opinion held by all other species in WA it would seem] and a cause of significant disappointment to all the people who prize the spring perfume and effective summer shade provided by mature Melia azedarach.
The potential economic threat posed to Western Australia's wheat industry by sparrows and the environmental threat posed by cane toads hopping towards the WA border from the Northern Territory however, are both one or more orders of magnitude greater than the aesthetic trauma and uticaria caused by the L. reducta creepy little crawlers.

 


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Subject: furry caterpillars 7/02/2007 12:03 AM, from Amy & Duncan C.

Hi Mark,

Just wanted to thank you for your webpage. I moved into a house in Maylands in December that has one of the cape lilacs you can see on your way into the city. I've been wondering since we moved in what all the old cocoons are doing around the place and then the invasion started last week.

I'm keen to try out some of the methods suggested (I don't smoke). Only other one I'm considering is that I grew up with my parents using grease bands on fruit trees to prevent little critters getting up the trunk... I believe old engine oil or axle grease might suit. Will drop you a line on anything I find that might.

Have a 4 week old so may be stealing some of her baby powder... will just tell her that rationing has started because of the war effort.

Thanks,

Duncan

Well, I'm sorry to say that I didn't reply to Duncan, there was too much going on domestically at the time, and Duncan didn't tell of any results from their efforts. I think I'll send them an email now [8 Sept 2007 [which shows what a rotten correspondent I am, doesn't it!]]


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August 2007 - Generic & cheap spray for generic and hairy Black Caterpillars, from Lynn Olsen.

 Hi Mark,

I was surfing the net looking for a remedy for the black fat caterpillars that we get in our gardens at this time of the year and found one that might that may be useful for other annoyed gardeners out there. I haven't any molasses on hand so am going to try Golden syrup and Honey.

Also if you use 2 tablespoons of Molasses as well as the other ingredients it is supposed to eradicate 'root knot nematodes' Apply this at the base of the plant.

1 tablespoon of MOLASSES

1 teaspoon of LIQUID DETERGENT

1 Litre of WARM WATER

Shake till it is all disolved and then SPRAY the buggas on the top and bottom of the leaves.

Hope this is a help to someone

Cheers

~Lynne~

 

  • Note: The caterpillars Lynne is referring to here are not  L. reducta; these hairy black crawlies are your common or garden winter leaf-eating larvae. Whilst it is possible to find the occasional Cape Lilac larva sleep-walking away from its snug little bivouac on an exceptionally warm winter's day, the chances are it will be dead before next morning because it will not be able to find the same sheltered spot. These creatures are quite temperature sensitive and seem to slow to a dead stop at in-your-fridge temperatures. 


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 What John said

October 2007 - White Cedar Grubs [Catepillars]

 

Mark

Thanks for your response and sympathy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Do you mind if I put a record of your exploits on my page? ...

No problem, although I don't think it will help anybody beat these grubs from hell!

'Malathon' you mean Malathion?

Chemspray market this insecticide under the name "Malathon". However, the active ingredient is Maldison which also goes by the name Malathion.

Interesting approach to try using the stuff as a systemic poison; is that indicated on the bottle?

No, its not. The normal treatment is to mix up 10ml of Malathon with 10 litres of water and spray the leaves and stems, etc. I have also gone on "grub search and destroy missions" spraying them whereever I find them. I have also found them hiding in the bark crevices of nearby gum trees. When night time comes they head for the ground and wriggle across to my cedar tree for their evening meal. Alternately where the branches of these trees are in close contact with the Cedar tree, they migrate across them.

However, when I asked my professional gardener friend about the cure for this pest, he just rolled his eyes and confided in me that it's virtually a lost cause. He suggested that I drill some holes into the tree trunk and rapidly administer some pesticide into each one. The idea was for the tree to draw the toxins up to each branch via the capillary action [trees drink water by drawing groundwater up its trunk via a capillary effect]. Eventually the whole tree should have absorbed the Malathon and kill the grubs, should they eat either the leaves or any part of the tree. Well that was the theory.

I tend to think that drilling holes in the tree might cause the bark making cells, or whatever we should call the growing part under the bark, to seal off the damaged area. Who know? If that IS the case though, then the main movement of the poison would be downwards I think. That would explain why naughty people who drill, and kill  trees that are blocking their view with herbicide, seem to be so successful.

He did say that I had about 30 seconds from the moment I pulled out the drill bit and filled up the hole with the Malathon. Apparently the natural response of the tree is that once air hits the drilled hole, it starts to heal itself with a sort of sap sealant. Consequently, when I drilled the hole, the wife pumped some Malathon into the hole whilst I dropped the drill and filled the 1" [25mm] hole with some Selleys "Nogaps" Acylic Sealer out of my caulking gun in an attempt to slow down the sealing process. I drilled a series of holes around the trunk about every 2" [50mm].

Did it work? Well the tree survived as did the grubs.

How come you needed council approval to chop the tree?

Normally you are allowed to prune any tree without local council approval. However, when the pruning is so drastic so as to leave only the tree trunk and its two main branches, then XXXX City Council like to feel they are "in the loop" so to speak. There was no charge for getting their permission to chop it back as opposed to cutting it down. I just had to complete a request for permission to do so and mark on the limbs where the cuts would be made.

Have you been to have a look around the tree that never seems to be infected with the grubs?

It's on Council Property behind a high mesh fence. So its a bit difficult to inspect from a close distance.

A last thought about the systemic malathion: what doesn't kill the buggers will make them stronger! You could end up breeding a super strong variety that thrives on insecticide!

I believe it failed because the self sealing sapwood blocked it. As for creating super-grubs. No I don't think so. They would have to live long enough to pass on a Malathon-defying gene. For the last few years I would inspect the tree DAILY and spray it accordingly. Whilst a few grubs may have survived, the mortality rate was up in the very high end of the scale. It didn't matter how many thousands I killed each year they seem to still come back in the same numbers! This year I decided to chop the tree right back so there is nothing left for them to feed on.

Also, the grub lays its eggs in the soft green twigs or shoots. When the larvae hatch they start feeding on the softer core wood until they eventually eat their way right out of the branch. As a result the smaller branches are riddled with holes and end up dying as a result of this activity.

Hence my logic was to try and break the breeding cycle. If I cut away all the potential branches containing grub larvae and any green leaves, then any little bugger that lands back on it will starve to death and not live to produce the next generation.

Since I last wrote to you I discovered a couple of these grubs [from God knows where] which had eaten some of the new shoots sprouting from the lopped tree trunk. I pulled out the Malathon and squirted them and the ground litter around the base of the tree. So far the tree has been spared. But like Scarlett O'Hara said in the closing scene of "Gone with the Wind" ... "tomorrow is another day".

Regards

John

 
Note: I think John is still labouring under some illusions concerning these trees and their bugs. For example:
The correct tool and method for 'drilling some holes around the trunk' in the case of this tree is with by going right around it with a chain-saw!
My point about the possibility of 'super grubs' evolving, is based on the realisation that these insects reproduce themselves 4 times per season.

 

   

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  f10  

 Melia Azedarach: known in Perth WA as Cape Lilac tree, AKA White Cedar, Persian Lilac, Tulip Cedar, amongst others- some interesting and informative links are given below. It is interesting to note though that none of them mention the bloody caterpillars!
 
 Melia azedarach L. var. australasica (Adr. Juss.) C. DC. has some beautiful images with detail of leaves, flowers and so forth, and good standardised description of the plant's features and attributes, also gives derivation of the name:
Derivation: Melia, Greek name of Manna Ash, referring to the resemblance of the leaves to those of the Ash (Northern hemisphere ash genus Fraxinus); azedarach from Persian azad(noble) and darakht(tree); the name applied to the common Indian Neem tree.  
 
 http://www.treefarm.com.au/Melia_azedarach.htm Alstonville Tree Farm, quick URL to download. 
 Melia azedarach Listing of Useful Plants of the World  
 The Nature Conservancy of the USA has an Element Stewardship Abstract on its website which calls the Chinaberry tree a virulent weed. It makes interesting reading and indicates that the tree is well established in the wild right across the south east of USA and in California as well as Puerto Rico. It refers also to the presence of the plant in southern Africa, along roadsides and stream banks and the page links to another on The Nature Concernancy site which includes photos from Brazil. In other words this d*amned plant is going all round the world - presumably to every part of the planet not affected by frost!
 
 Intriguingly, none of the US or other non-Australian sites mention anything about Leptocneria reducta!
 

  f20  

3 July 2003.  Navigate this page

Something interesting I have discovered about the twigs of Melia azedarach when the tree is losing its leaves in winter is that
a leafless twig, once it has dropped off the tree, displays a sort of fractal design in that the main twig has usually about 5 pairs of opposing twiglets coming off it at about a 60 angle and each of these has about 5 pairs of opposing leaf stems coming off at the same angle and similar spacing.
 Not only that but just as the main twig sheared off neatly from its branch at a specific line of weakness, so also each twiglet can be caused by only gentle pressing to shear off the surface of the twig at a similar line of weakness, so also can each little leaf stem and, something which surprised me,
at the slightly thickened places on each twiglet where the leaf stems attach [a 'node'?], the outer part of the twiglet can generally be caused to shear off at such a line of weakness.
Thus each quasi fractal twig can be dismantled into a whole heap of leaf stems and short inter-nodal pieces of twiglet.
The main stem of the twig exhibits the same nodal shearing points for at least the two outermost nodes.

Could this be a protective feature which enables the tree to sustain minimal damage to its foiage during typhoons and cyclones?

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They are none the less here because it is the ideas that are important.
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