Of All the Gall

Elm leaves here are often heavy with these mite-produced galls

This is not a new feature of Floyd County natural history, but it is one that has taken on a new importance, and I’ll tell the second part of that story here soon.

These are plant leaf “galls” that can take all sorts of forms, depending on the host plant and its response, and the egg-laying chemicals of the “donor” injections. In this particular pairing, the host is elm, the deposits made by a pregnant female mite.

If you cut open one of those red growths (and some of our small elms are heavy with them) you’ll find tiny mites (not the ones that give a flip about people’s hair follicles) living protected inside the plant-produced fortress.

It’s what happens when they mature that is the most economically relevant. And some will love what happens, some, not so much.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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