Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beetles! Get'cher Beetles Here!

Hey, You! Yeah, you, Fella!  Take a look at these!  Japanese Beetles for Sale!  These little green friendlies would love to hitch a ride into your garden and fornicate in it and make babies.  Cheap!  End of the Year Sale! Don't wait until they reach your area on their own!  Get'em NOW!

This morning, on a trip out of town, I innocently stopped at a large regional nursery about 60 miles east of Manhattan.  This nursery sells each Spring, among other plants, the largest variety of potted roses for a radius of 100 miles.   Being who I am, I could not help but stop to view their sale on the few remaining potted roses, hoping particularly to find a 'St. Swithun' marked down to a price that even a curmudgeonly rosarian would like.  And there, I saw them.  Japanese Beetles!  Fornicating in 'The Wedgwood Rose'!  And, looking around, they were on all the roses!  And the perennial hibiscus! And the daylilies (insert primal scream here)!  I took the pictures displayed here with my Iphone, to dispel doubting Thomas's and the likes of government types who claim that UFO's do not exist.

To understand the full depth of my horror and the stream of curses I uttered, you should be aware that Japanese Beetles are not yet endemic just 60 miles west, in Manhattan, Kansas, and I was unaware that they had been seen in anything but temporary outbreaks west of Kansas City.  You East-Coast rosarians should imagine, for a moment, an idyllic garden where you had never seen a Japanese Beetle, but you had heard they were massing at the seashore.  That is the fear that I've been living with for 5 or 6 years now, viewing the pictures of destruction at other gardens on the Internet and waiting for the beetle-induced Armageddon.

Fellow Gardeners, I am irate, nay, I am INCENSED at the callous disregard of this nursery for the public.  Questioning a worker at the store, "Yes", they did know that they had living, breeding Japanese beetles on the premises.  "They've been here for two or three years."  And "Yes" they had notified the authorities and were being monitored.  Why then, I wondered, were their embeetled roses and other plants still for sale?  How was it that they felt it was okay to participate in spreading these things around? I understand a conscientious gardener sticking to their organic principles and refusing to spray, but surely a commercial nursery wouldn't hesitate to nuke every inch of plant and soil.   One thing for sure, I wasn't buying any roses today.

Friends, this whole issue puts me deeply into an ethical and moral dilemma.  I have a vocal libertarian streak, distrusting authority of all kinds and advocating that petty little government dictators, (like Michael Bloomberg, currently trying to regulate the size of soft drinks at the movies in NYC), be exiled to Elba.  But I wished instantly and fervently on the spot that there was a government agency that would step into this void, tell this nursery they have to put up signs warning unknowing customers, and curtail sales to western customers.  Or better yet, depopulate and burn the nursery to the ground, as they have done in the past to farms with tuberculosis and brucellosis in their dairy herds.

I know, I know, eventually beetles will reach Manhattan Kansas on their own.  But I had a small hope that the Flint Hills would be a 50 mile-wide barrier to westward expansion; a no-beetle-land of poor food sources for their migration and extensive annual prairie fires to wipe out early scouts.  Little did I know that a nursery on the infested side of the zone would blatantly offer to sell me a potted plant with either beetle larvae in the soil or, in my case today, some actual beetle couples who would have been happy to have intercourse in my back seat during the Jeep ride home and then quickly disperse into my Beetle Eden of 200 rose plants.  Just as bad, I've bought plants from this nursery every year, my latest being a peony last August during a sale.  It has been long planted in my garden, all last Winter and this Spring, far too late to grub out now.  Until now I've tried, myself, to be a no-spray gardener, mostly faithful to the organic cause, but within seconds I was contemplating which insecticide I should use first.
I drove speedily home, calling friends and local nursery owners on the way like a Paul Revere of horticulture, spreading the word that the beetles were coming.  Local nursery owners were unaware and surprised at the disclosure.  Flashes of Kevin McCarthy screaming "They're here already! You're next!" at the ending of the classic movie The Invasion of the Body Snatcher's were running through my mind.  I came straight home and ran into my rose garden, inspecting every bloom for insects lounging in post-coital bliss, finally collapsing in relief as I determined that I'm still free from infection.  And then I took a long hot shower in disinfectant soap and burned my clothes.  You can never be too careful.


  1. I understand your horror and am glad to see that you were alerting your friends and other nurseries.
    Like you I am appalled that a nursery would continue to sell infected plants like that and are allowed to do that. Judging by the reply of the worker you talked to that they were being monitored and still knowingly selling their infected plants.
    I will be more careful when buying plants to inspect them thoroughly.

    Don't know how to reply to you from my email address, so this will have to do.

    1. Fascinating how mail-order nurseries have to sell by strict standards but local nurseries can sell to just any old person who walks in off the street even if they're thousands of miles away.


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