Invasive bug found in some Christmas trees, wreaths

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Brown spots seen are elongate hemlock scale (EHS) found on the underside of evergreen needles. (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DACTP)

(WLUK) -- If you bought any real wreaths or evergreen holiday decorations, state officials are asking you to dispose of them properly after finding invasive species on them.

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection discovered elongate hemlock scale, or EHS, in arrangements of evergreen wreaths, swags and boughs sold at Menards, Pick n Save, Home Depot, Kmart and Stein.

Officials say it's okay to keep your decorations up for the remainder of the holidays but when it's time to dispose of them, do not put them in the compost pile or set them out for brush collection. If you can, burn them or bag them and send them to the landfill.

On Thursday, the owner of Whispering Pines Tree Farm, Dave VanderVelden, showed FOX 11 what tree branches should look like.

"We are quarantine and they inspect us," said Vandervelden. “If you’re looking for the problem, you’d find it on the underside of the needles."

None of the tree farms in Wisconsin are affected by EHS. However, the insects were discovered on holiday decorations that came from outside Wisconsin.

EHS, which is native to Asia, saps nutrients as it feeds on the underside of conifer needles and threatens Wisconsin Christmas tree farms. In the past five years, inspectors have found it isolated at some Christmas tree lots. This year, infested evergreen products, coming from North Carolina, were found at many major stores throughout the state.

“All stores were extremely cooperative in getting rid of the stocks as soon as we notified them," said Donna Gilson with the Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Gilson said although stores got rid of the items immediately, many had already been sold.

She said the bugs look like brown spots on the underside of the needles.

Officials say invasive species feed up to 40 types of trees. With hemlock, spruces and firs being the most susceptible.

"If you throw them out on the compost pile now or after the holidays, in the spring, they could emerge and start damaging other evergreens in the area," said Gilson.

Gilson added that its okay to still have your decorations up. But make you sure you either burn it or bag it before sending it to the landfill.

"It doesn’t affect your home, it doesn’t break out to your house, doesn’t affect humans at all," VanderVelden added.

Although the insects won't hurt anything or anyone in the home, VanderVelden hopes everyone will cooperate in preventing the spread of the invasive species.