The other day, I noticed that the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) in the front garden was looking rather ratty. When I looked a little closer, I saw that the edges of many of the leaves were rolled over and secured with what looked like thick, white thread. Many of those rolled over areas had turned brown and looked dried out.
With great imagination, I googled "redbud leafroller," figuring I had a reasonable chance of figuring out what was doing the damage by describing the problem. I love it when names of insects are descriptive! It turns out that the damage I was seeing was being done by the caterpillar of a relatively small black and white moth known as the...(wait for it!)...redbud leafroller! For those of you Latin speakers, this creature is also known as Fascista cercerisella.
Looking over the leaves to see which ones looked most interesting to photograph, I noticed this little black and white striped caterpillar hard at work, securing its hideout. Not only is the adult moth black and white, the caterpillar is too. In fact, the caterpillar is even snazzier than its adult moth, in my humble opinion.
Once the leaf has been folded over, the hungry, eye-catching caterpillar will eat the top layer away, leaving the bottom layer of the leaf to eventually turn brown and die.
The few sites that discussed this organism (beyond showing photos of the moth and caterpillar) described which chemical to spray the tree foliage with to "control" it. No where did I read that the leafroller could kill the tree, although I did read one site which noted the leaves would fall off if the infestation was severe enough. Knowing that most trees can easily survive at least one complete defoliation, this didn't sound too horrible to me. By the way, redbud is the only tree that this insect feeds on, so there's no need to fear it moving to trees of other species.
Looking over the other two redbuds in my yard, the worst infestation is definitely on the triple trunk tree in the front garden where I originally noticed it. This doesn't really surprise me, because that tree is not doing all that well in general - as is pretty typical, the most stressed tree is showing the worst damage.
The seedling eastern redbud in the back courtyard has a few leaves showing damage, but the only reason I even noticed it on that little tree is that I was photographing a two-lined spittle bug resting on one of its leaves, which happened to be one of the few leaves affected.
The Oklahoma redbud in the corner of the courtyard has no leafroller damage on it at all, as of this morning.
Given that this insect is specific to redbuds and is only severely infesting one, already compromised, tree out of the three redbuds in the immediate area, I am not going to do anything. I'm curious to see what happens and, if it's significant, I'll update my blog to let everyone know what I've learned the "hard" way.
Out of curiosity, is anyone else seeing redbud leafrollers on their eastern redbuds this year?