Monday, June 04, 2012

Redbud Leafroller

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?


16 comments:

Kalantikan said...

Hi Gaia (even if it is not your name, i know gaia is earth). We don't have your vegetation but i experienced leafrollers with that habit on our okra. They defoliated them till they die, i am just sorry i wasn't able to see how the adult moth looks like. The larvae are really not 'handsome-looking' at all. I hope you will post the adults photos later.

Under the Sun garden centers said...

Congrats! You have a beautiful blog and I enjoy reading your posts. Your kitty picture is adorable.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

I have a number of redbuds in my garden and no signs of Leafroller. I have a different leafroller on some of my cannas....and I do nothing about it. If it gets worse I will hand pick them.
I wonder if the OK Redbud is resistant to them, perhaps because it is more prevalent in the midwest?? If it is in fact more prevalent in the midwest? I just tried to find out, most of the info sheets from edu sites that talk about it are from the midwest. Interesting.

Melanie said...

Interesting. .just this morning as I was leaving, I noticed that many of the leaf edges on my multistemmed redbud bush were looking brown. I can't wait to get back home and see if this is the problem. While swinging Cami last night, I didn't notice any damage on my regular redbud tree. .but will have to check on that too! Thanks for the advice!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Kalantikan, I would never presume to think of myself as Gaia (although I appreciate your doing so!) - I just try to garden as I think she'd like me to. Sorry your okra died. Are they annuals for you? They are here - and thus it doesn't surprise me that a defoliation would kill them. Even perennials seem less resiliant in that way than trees and shrubs are.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks, Under the Sun! Glad you stopped by!

ProfessorRoush said...

I've seen them here before but haven't noticed them this year.
I'll check.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Janet, I'm thinking that the glossy (waxy?) leaves of the Oklahoma redbud may not be as attractive to the redbud leafroller as the more "normal" leaves of eastern redbud. Or maybe it's just more suited to the current climate conditions and site.

My memory is that the canna leafroller is the caterpillar of a large skipper. When I lived in Mobile, I remember having them on my cannas and leaving them (unless they got overwhelming, in which case I also handpicked them) because I liked the adult.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, I'll be curious to hear if that's what's causing your brown edges! Around here, it's certainly a good year for insects of all stripes, sizes and persuasions.

Tree Service Queens said...

I'm just curious, how many of the leaves did the little bugger infect? Did it eventually reach adulthood as a butterfly?

-Oscar Valencia

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Haven't seen any of these this year but I remember the first time we had them. I took some to our etxtension agent at the time and he called them "redbud leaf folding worms." I thought he was teasing me but no, it really is that simple. Ha! He said they won't kill a red bud tree just make the leaves look bad.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Oscar, I'd say at least 80% of the leaves are affected on the multi-trunk eastern redbud, although almost none of them are affected to the point of being lost or nonfunctional. Less than 10% on the seedling eastern redbud, and 0% on the Oklahoma redbud.

None of the leaves have dropped. They just look bad, with at least one margin rolled over and brown.

Anonymous said...

All of my redbuds are infested! I got home from work the other day and thought "What the heck" It seemed like overnight my redbuds are dying. With research and your information I am glad to know my trees wont die. One thing is certain we had an epidemic of moths this spring and I have learned to pretreat the redbuds if moth infestations happen again.

Sharon Beasley said...

I live in Oklahoma and have the leaf rollers also. I sprayed one tree near junipers when I sprayed the junipers for bagworms. That tree doesn't look as pathetic as the other redbuds. I intend to start spraying the redbuds next year when I spray for bagworms, only do at least another spraying on the redbuds to see if it keeps the leaf rollers away.
Sharon Beasley Newcastle OK

Anonymous said...

I'm in southeastern PA. My redbud, raised from a seedling from Arbor Day seedings, now has webbing on one small branch, similar to bag worms, but no sign of bag worms. The leaves are completely eaten and the skeleton is left. Has anyone seen this on their redbud?
fostermom from the SE

Anonymous said...

Hi Gaia, I just wanted to let you know that these guys will also eat grapevines. My concord is infested with them. I cut down a redbud that was about 20-30 feet away, because it looked as if it were on its last legs, and I guess the moths decided to move on to my grapes. I may have to spray, I handpicked a lot today, but there are TONS of little tiny clear eggs all over my vines. I dont know if they are the same thing or something else. But the things I was handpicking today are definitely the guys you are describing.