Dead HemlocksIn a previous post I wrote about the devastation that tiny insects called hemlock woody adelgids are bringing to one of the signature trees of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

On a recent trail-maintenance work trip in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I saw just how bad things are. This photo, looking west-southwest from the summit of Rocky Top, a 5,400 peak located south of Clingman’s Dome, says it all. Most of the gray, dead tree skeletons carpeting the ridge are hemlocks, gone forever.

As I noted previously, the park is attempting to save some of the hemlocks by treating them with an insecticide, mostly along roads and in high-visibility areas. This photo shows the sad reality in the backcountry, where widespread treatment would be nearly impossible.

Another sad example presented itself in a dark cove (too dark for a decent photo with my limited skills) on our hike into the work site. On the Bote Mountain Trail at about 4,000 feet in elevation we passed a magnificent old hemlock, nearly five feet in diameter, with deep vertical bark furrows that gave the tree the look of a sturdy, wise elder. The tree must’ve been at least 200 years old, perhaps much older, but unfortunately it, too, was dead, killed by the adelgids.

Hemlocks, of course, thrived until humans unwittingly imported the adelgids from Asia in modern times.

If you want to make a donation to help save these gorgeous trees, visit http://www.friendsofthesmokies.org. The group has contributed more than $1 million to treat and save hemlocks in the Smokies.

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Mike Williams

Mike Williams

With roots in Mississippi and Alabama, Mike Williams worked for newspapers across the South for 27 years. After earning a degree in American Studies at Amherst College, he worked for Alabama newspapers in Baldwin County, Montgomery and Birmingham, followed by stints at the Miami Herald and The Atlanta Constitution. His last job was as a foreign correspondent for the Cox Newspaper chain. He now splits his time between Florida and the North Carolina mountains. His interests include race relations, history, Southern folk culture and the environment.