Continuing on last week’s column, I have a new bug to talk about.
There’s a worm, or probably more correctly, larva, that’s burrowing into the cones of echinacea (cone flower). I first noticed that some of the cones were turning black, then had a customer from Oshawa tell me that she had run across this last year as well. I started inspecting my echinacea more closely, pulling apart the cones of the flowers that had turned black already. Deep down in the cone, far from eyesight, was this fat little worm about 1/2 inch long, greyish-green with stripes. He (I’m calling it a he because of its voracious appetite) did not like being exposed and starting squirming and trying to get as far from me as he could. I began removing all of the flowers that had blackened cones. It turned out to be a considerable number, almost half of them. I then started looking more closely at the remaining flowers and noticed that some of the paleae (the orange spikes that make up the cone of the single-flowering varieties) were standing taller than the rest. These orange spikes are what gave echinacea their name, which was derived from echinos, the greek word for hedgehog. I carefully pulled apart the cone and found another worm, this time a little smaller. After removing all of these flowers, I got in for a real personal and up-close look at the remaining flowers. In between the orange spikes I noticed a small grey mass. Certainly not something you’d see unless the cone was close enough to poke you in the eye. I pulled apart the cone and, sure enough, found another worm, this time no bigger than 1/8 inch. I removed all of these flowers and then took the stems down to the base, just in case they were also taking up residence in the stems. When I stood back and looked where there had been, just a short while beforehand, hundreds of blooms, there was now maybe a dozen. I filled two garbage bags with flowers and stems and tied them tight to keep the worms from escaping, which they started trying to do within an hour of the flowers being cut. I then tried to Google the problem but nothing showed up, so I changed the wording, but again nothing. I sent a few Emails to some plant people I know, but they didn’t know anything about it. They have since passed it on to people they know and I’m still waiting to hear back.
A few days later I was doing a consultation at someone’s home when I noticed that all of their echinacea had black cones. I told them what I had found and asked them to cut all of their echinacea back and burn them. The next day, another consultation, and more worms. I then received a shipment of plants coming from the Hamilton area and immediately checked the echinacea. They looked fine, but between the orange spikes was the grey mass. I cut apart one of the flowers to reveal the worm and put it in a ziploc to send back to the grower (along with all of the echinacea). Two days later we had another delivery, this time from the Niagara region. Again, the echinacea were returned with a flower cut in half, safely secured in a ziploc.
Having destroyed most of the flowers and stems, and checking the remaining echinacea daily, I thought we were on top of this new problem. Then I noticed that it was getting into the Heliopsis (false sunflowers) as well and I began checking all flowers with that daisy shape to them. I found it in some of the Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans) too. After updating everyone I had passed along the initial information to, I cut back more plants, had a little (ok, a lot) less colour, but hopefully no more of these worms.
Please, check your Echinacea, Heliopsis, Rudbeckia, and Asters (when they start blooming). Cut them back fairly hard and burn what you cut right away. If you can’t burn it, seal them in a bag, preferably black like a garbage bag, and leave them in a sunny spot, which will hopefully cook them, until you can put them out with the garbage. Don’t compost them, or put them in your green bins. I’ll let you know when I have any more information. Hopefully, this isn’t a major concern like the lily beetle, and is just a problem this year because of the mild winter.
just before this column was published, Janet Anderson helped me to identify my mystery bug: sunflower moth larvae