New York’s High Line is a bit of a crown jewel for the bustling city: a former elevated freight rail line, it’s now a marvelous public park with ample room for walking, playing, and other activities. Landscaped with a variety of plants, the High Line owes its existence to some determined citizens who fought to preserve and repurpose it instead of demolishing it, and the result of their lobbying is something an entire city can enjoy.
But this week, some ominous news is coming in from the beautiful site. It’s the kind of thing that gives entomologists nightmares, and it gives many of us the willies as well: a new species of cockroach has been spotted there, and not just any species, but one that’s highly cold-resistant, so it can withstand the intense temperatures of New York City in the winter.
Entomologists evaluating the situation say citizens probably shouldn’t be alarmed, because the cockroaches will fit in well with the natural environment. While they will compete with the native species for food and shelter, New York’s existing bug population is tough enough to hold its ground, and thus the two will likely maintain a balance, and they can’t interbreed to create a new species. New Yorkers, it would appear, are safe for now, but the story of how the cockroaches got there is a reminder of how important it is to be careful, because these bugs might not have been so benign.
Researchers think the visiting insects probably arrived in the soil of a plant. Even native plants can be cultivated far from home, and while the nursery trade is required to closely inspect plants and submit products for agricultural inspection before shipping them across state lines, insects can and do evade the sharp eyes of inspectors, especially when they (or their eggs) are embedded deep in the soil of a plant in transit.
Thus, insects from all over the world (these cockroaches hail from Asia) can hitch rides with plants, ending up in potentially fragile environments. With native plants in particular this is a concern, as such plants may be designated for planting in delicate sites as part of habitat conservation or the promotion of native species gardening — so having non-native bugs overrunning the area would be bad news. Likewise, unwanted plants can hitch along too as seeds, sprouts, or seedlings.
When you’re buying plants at the nursery for your lovely Dallas landscaping, make sure to check them carefully for signs of ill health, which can be an indicator of parasites, infections, or insects. Also check for obvious insect infestation, seeds, and other indicators that your plant may be carrying a little something extra. If you do notice unfamiliar insects around your home or garden, it’s definitely high time to call an exterminator to identify the bugs and determine whether you need to take action.
Photo: Sue Waters/Flickr.