Public Works and Environmental Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our administrative offices are open to the public by appointment only at this time. Please call or email 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday - Thursday; 9:15 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday

703-324-1770
TTY 711

12055 Government Center Parkway
Suite 518, Fairfax, Va 22035

Brian Keightley,
Division Director, Urban Forest Management

Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

Hemlock wooly adelgid infestation on hemlock needles
Hemlock wooly adelgid (fluffy white masses in photo) infestation on hemlock needles (Fairfax County photo)

The hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), commonly referred to as HWA, is an aphid-like insect native to East Asia. It feeds on nutrient and water storage cells at the base of hemlock needles. This exotic, invasive insect was likely imported into the United States on Japanese hemlock nursery stock in the 1950s. In Asia, HWA is not a serious pest because it is managed by natural predators, parasitoids, and by host tree resistance. However, in North America, HWA threatens the vulnerable eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) because those natural controls are absent. Eastern hemlocks throughout the southeast have been devastated by this insect including nearby in the Shenandoah National Park.

 

Large Dead Hemlocks in mountain
Large dead hemlocks in a mountain ecosystem. This damage is irreversible. (Photo: Jason Van Driesch bugwood.org)

Native hemlock forests once dominated the slopes of many of our streams and rivers. Hemlock trees are known as a keystone species, critical elements of ecosystems that if disturbed have cascading consequences. They create and maintain a unique biome above ground and underground. Their roots hold the soil and rock on often-steep slopes in place, while their intertwining branches significantly cool the surrounding air and water as well as create habitat for many wildlife species. The fallen needles also create an acidic and rich soil. There are not many native eastern hemlocks remaining in Fairfax County. Their natural beauty, the local rarity of this species, and their unique role in watershed preservation make it a priority for protection.

 

Hemlock Forest
Hemlock forest in Fairfax County. (Fairfax County photo)

Left untreated, HWA can kill hemlock trees in 4 to 10 years. Once weakened by HWA, the trees become susceptible to damage from other pests, including the exotic, invasive hemlock elongate scale (Fiorinia externa) and the native hemlock borer (Melanophila fulvoguttata). Maintaining trees in a healthy condition discourages serious damage by these secondary pests

Staff actively seeks to preserve the last hemlocks by monitoring their condition and administering prescribed treatments. Staff continues to research management options for hemlocks and HWA, particularly regional biocontrol efforts as they become available.

 

Click photo to enlarge

Eastern Hemlock Branch
An eastern hemlock branch with residual HWA presence and secondary hemlock elongate scale (F. externa) presence. (Fairfax County photo)
staff actively seeks to preserve the last hemlocks
Staff actively seeks to preserve the last hemlocks by monitoring their condition and administering prescribed treatments.
Urban foresters collect data
Urban foresters collect data on a hemlock tree that was previously treated for hemlock wooly adelgid at Scotts Run Park in McLean.
Fairfax Virtual Assistant