SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s official state tree is under threat from the region’s warming and drying climate, scientists say.
The pinon pine is known for its nuts and its distinctive smell when used as firewood. But state scientists and botanists are warning that pinon trees across northern New Mexico and other areas of the state may be under increasing strain this year, The Santa Fe New Mexican reports (https://bit.ly/2mXhRsu ).
The changing climate can leave the tree vulnerable to pest infestation and disease, and it isn’t clear yet how severe the problem could become, according to scientists.
“Pine needle scale is all over Santa Fe,” said Scott Canning, director of horticulture for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. “Last year, it was widespread; this year it is even more widespread.”
Canning said the disease attacks trees that are stressed because of inadequate water or dramatic temperature changes.
“Our climate is warmer and drier than it was. Certainly that is not up for debate,” he said.
Randall Hergert, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said the first three months of 2017 are on track to be the third-warmest start for any year on record for Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Forecasts for the coming months point to higher-than-average temperatures and drier conditions, he said.
Scale insects aren’t new, but conditions seem right for them to spread widely across the Santa Fe region, according to Canning. He said the best way to prevent scale is to water pinons monthly during drought. To treat a bug infestation, he recommended routinely spraying a tree with water or a horticultural oil called dormant.
Mark Pennington, whose family has owned Agua Fria Nursery in Santa Fe since 1975, said he has been using that method on one of his older pinon trees. Black gnats swarmed the base of the gnarled tree, and many of its needles turned brittle and tan instead of their natural dark green.
The infestation is “definitely getting worse with a lack of winter cold and a lack of winter moisture,” said Pennington. “If the weather continues to be warmer and drier, everything we are used to seeing here is going to change.”
The last major pinon die-off was in 2013, when the trees were attacked by beetles during an extended drought. Millions of trees died and their remains became a fire hazard.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com
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