Ghosts of Cicadas Past

Posted on: August 2, 2021

Welcome to the dog days of summer. By the time most of you read this it will be

early August. It’s probably 90 degrees with equal humidity. This is the part of the year that makes me question living in Maryland. Every day is the same thing; hazy, hot and humid with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms.

The work on the farm also hit a late summer monotony as there is only a bit of digging and loading to be done at this time of year. Attentions have shifted to maintenance, most notably, pruning. Every time we prune our trees it gives us an opportunity to make them better. This year’s pruning is no exception but has even greater impact than usual.

If you are reading this from someplace other than the Mid-Atlantic you might not be aware that our region just experienced a once every 17 year visit from Brood X cicadas. Their arrival was slightly delayed due to cooler than normal temperatures but once they showed up, they did so in Biblical fashion. I would estimate that we had a solid month with our cicada “friends”. As a horticulturist, their arrival was not only a highly anticipated event, but it was also something of a fascinating entomological wonder. It takes a special person to get excited about a plague of insects but this person was poised and ready to welcome Brood X!

At first, the sound of the cicadas was a mild background hum. I remember that first week, being really entertained by the “sweet” sounds of the mating call. However the novelty of their existence wore off in fairly short order. Cicadas in my hair, down my shirt, in my car, literally ALL OVER every tree I tried to tag or count. That once intoxicating song created by the males became nails on a chalkboard. When would it ever stop? When, when would they ever go away?

And then all of a sudden, it did stop. Here and there you could hear the song of one lone male who had definitely gotten the date on the invitation wrong. Peace (and quiet) retuned to our nursery. Ahhhhh.

But now what? The life cycle of Brood X has ended and we are left with the detritus of their lives. Cicada carcasses litter the ground. Nearly every tree has at least one cicada corpse stuck between the tree guards and the tree trunk. Worse still is the damage they left behind. All those billions of cicadas have left their mark on many of our young trees.

Our plan this year was to wait the invasion out, to delay this year’s pruning until after the red eyed flying destructors were finished wreaking havoc. Now that they are gone, we have our work cut out for us. Was every tree damaged? No. But many species such as oak and viburnum took it on the chin. It’s hard to understand why Brood X largely left Kentucky Coffee, Silver Linden and Ginkgo alone but went to town on red, scarlet and bicolor oaks. We may never know. But what we do know is that this year’s pruning will be more important than any other to date.

We can’t stop Brood X from returning in 2038. But we can try to help their latest victims recover from the vicious attack. One thing is for sure though. We will all be haunted by the ghosts of cicadas past for many years to come.





Ronda Roemmelt Sneider, CPH
ISA Certified Arborist MA-5274A
Ruppert Nurseries Sales Manager/Mid Atlantic Sales