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"Pest" Disfiguring Crape Myrtles in McKinney

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A pest is leaving its mark on one of North Texas' favorite flowering plants.

    A pest is leaving its mark on one of North Texas' favorite flowering plants.

    In McKinney, the crape myrtle has become an emblem of the city where this year they received congressional recognition as "America's Crape Myrtle City."

    The plant is native to Southeast Asia but has been cultivated throughout warm climates, including Texas.

    "We're really proud of crape myrtles and our association with crape myrtles," said Neil Sperry, renowned Texas horticulturalist and a board member of the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney.

    Sperry said his organization, over the last decade, has helped plant 20,000 crape myrtles within city limits.

    However, over the same time, something "unsightly" has also taken root in the plants.

    "It's moved up through Collin County over the years and become a serious problem," said Dr. Greg Church, the Collin County AgriLife Extension Agent through Texas A&M.  "[It's] two different organisms, making the plant look bad."

    Church said little insects feed off the plants, in turn, excreting honey dew.  That substance attracts a "sooty mold fungus," which transforms the bark.

    The pest is called "crape myrtle bark scale" and, according to experts, is threatening both the aesthetics and the utility of the plant.

    "During drought conditions, which we've experienced the past three years, it can weaken the plant," Church said.

    There have been no plant deaths attributed to the bark scale, but the condition is spreading across the American South, specifically in the past two years, though it's been present in North Texas since 2004.

    Church said if the plant is manageably small enough, the bark scale can be cleaned off with water and some light soap.

    However, Sperry recommends placing insecticide at the roots of larger crape myrtle and clusters.