'Super invader' tree hits South, but flea beetle may be hero

November 14, 2017 - 3:08 am

Southern states appear to be losing ground to the Chinese tallow, a highly invasive tree overtaking forests from Texas to Florida.

Tallows are dangerous because they grow three times faster than most native hardwoods, outcompeting southern maples, oaks, elms and cypress for space and resources.

Tallows also have no known insect predators in the U.S. At least not yet. Scientists are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the possible release of a beetle that eats tallow roots and leaves and spends its entire life cycle on the tree.

The "bio-control agent," a flea beetle from the tallow's native region of eastern China, could be released in the U.S. as early as next year.

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