Lanternflies destroyed my oak tree (but that was just the beginning)

lanternflies destroyed my oak

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember the pruning of my big red oak. Or if you’ve been seeing my videos, you might have seen my oak tree in the background. It was the centerpiece of my yard. According to my neighbors, it was planted well before the lady who lived here in the 1960’s, and possibly more than 70 years ago. Lanternflies destroyed the oak and the oak is no more.

A series of events happened that made it necessary for us to take it down.

Lanternfly invasion

In May and June of this year, I noticed a lot of aphids on the tree, followed by ants who are attracted to aphids. By mid June, aphids had completely destroyed my autumn joy at the base of the tree.

Soon after, lanternfly nymphs started being apparent on the trunk. Then came the rain of sticky gooey honey dew, which is the excretion from the lanternfly nymphs as they eat the tree sap.

And by rain, I mean, the entire region of my yard and my neighbors’ yards which were under the canopy were covered in a sticky substance that quickly turned black. The white fence was black, tables black, leaves of plants, black.

Black mold on fence from lanternflies

You can see the white fence turned black from sticky honeydew and black mold

I came to learn that the black substance is mold that grows on the honeydew. Honeydew is a cute word that really means a really gross thing, in my opinion.

How to treat a tree with an aphid infestation

According to an arborist that I hired, you have to treat the ground for aphids as you can’t possibly spray the whole large tree. I got a quote for $500 but as you’ll see if you read on, I never went forward with this.

Oak Anthracnose

By the time the arborist came out (it was hard to get an appointment – I guess a lot of people were having issues), the leaves on the tree were covered with brown and black spots.

Leaf with Oak Anthracnose fungus

Leaf with Oak Anthracnose fungus

I was told the tree had Oak Anthracnose, a fungus that is untreatable but usually doesn’t kill oaks. The arborist did not think this was related to the aphids, but rather that the weather of the last two years had been stressful.  2021 was a very dry year and 2022 was a very wet year, both bad situations for trees.

The brown and black spotted leaves were covered with the sticky honeydew and developed black mold in many places, too. A double whammy.

Bare branches at the crown

The inspector also said that a number of big branches at the very top of the tree had lost their leaves, and bare branches at the crown usually indicates some sort of systemic damage. He declined to attribute the die off from either the lanternflies or the Oak Anthracnose and said we’d need to send an inspector up there.

Lightning bolt

On the fourth of July, a lightning bolt hit our tree. It was during one of these weird storms that pops up on a hot day out of nowhere. A violent weather cell with 60 mile gusts and lots of lightning.

A cable that ran past the tree broke apart into two pieces, hanging. The neighbors saw leaves fly off, and afterwards we noticed it had knocked the power out in our back yard where the cables are buried.

You could look up through the tree and see what looked like a burnt top.

Lightning damage

Looking directly up in the tree, the top branch extending up was singed from lightning

I had nightmares about the tree falling. Given the fact that the tree was having die off at the crown, two separate ailments (lanternfly aphids and Oak Anthracnose) and now a lightning bolt, sadly the tree needed to come down.

The lightning seemed like a clear sign that we need to pay attention to potential damage the tree could do as if it were to fall it could hit one of 6 or 7 houses on it’s way down. If it split, it could easily hit two houses at once.

Taking the tree down

The next day I called to see if someone could take it down and I found Carl, a local guy who actually was friends with my neighbor and gave me a great price – $4,000 which for a 60 foot oak in a Brooklyn townhouse where they whole thing has to be taken out through the basement was a great deal.

And this is what we found inside:

Jesus tree

What do you see?

I’m not a particularly religious person but it is quite striking (no pun intended), nevertheless.

There was no time to morn. It all happened very fast – from insect infestation, to inspection to lightning to tree removal.

We are all sad. But we are planning for tree 2.0. If you have any suggestions for what we could plant next, which is perhaps smaller for a Brooklyn backyard and has a more compact canopy, please leave comments!