Some trees around the Brazos Valley are turning brown, and it might not be due to a lack of rain.
The Texas Forestry Service first noticed last week that soapberry trees near Bird Pond Road in southeast College Station were dying. After closer investigation, staff members determined the trees were infected with the soapberry borer, a type of beetle that matures in the bark of the soapberry tree.
Dr. Ron Billings, Manager of Forrest Pest Management for the Texas Forest Service, said the first sign that the insect has infected a tree is bark chippings around the base.
“Squirrels and birds will peck on the trunk to try to get to the larvae, so you’ll see large chunks of bark missing from the tree,” Billings said.
Other signs include the leaves turning brown, and branches falling off the tree easily.
Billings said the Forestry Service hasn’t determined where the insect came from, but guesses that the beetle was probably transported in firewood from its native home of northern Mexico.
Despite the destructive nature of the bug, however, Billings said the soapberry borer only attacks soapberry trees, and have not seen the bug affect any other native Texas trees such as elms or oaks.
The soapberry tree is rounded in shape, can grow to be 25 to 30 feet in height, has white or yellow flower blooms in May or June, and can be identified by its berries that are yellow-orange in color and about the size of a cherry.
The Forestry Service has confirmed cases of infestation in soapberry trees in many regions of Texas, including Austin, Houston, Waco and Dallas.
Billings said if a tree is determined to be infected, unless that homeowner has an attachment to the tree, the tree should be removed and mulched.