the sorrowful song of the trees

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, 
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

That’s always been one of my favorite verses — the image of the trees rising up and swaying their branches in joy to the Savior is a powerful one for me. (I always loved Tolkien’s Ents, too.)

But the year of 2016 paints a grim picture of trees cowering in fear from the plague of giant flying periodical cicadas. (Yes, I’m sorry, another post on cicadas. It’s what’s happening here at Apple Hill Cottage.)

This is the oak tree at the side of our house. The oaks seem to be a favorite and sustain the most damage.

The only websites I can find that tell the truth about these creatures are the Penn State and Ohio State agricultural offices. At the bottom of the Penn State article it says, (I’m paraphrasing) Your trees should be fine, that is, unless you have 4-year-old or less fruit trees. Then you’re in big trouble.


The adult cicadas are gone now. I can go out in the morning and actually hear birds singing. But the damage they have done to the trees is disheartening. Our yard is littered with broken little branches.


The female cicadas lay their eggs in small shoots at the edges of trees. This is a close up of the slits they make.

Each female can lay up to 400 eggs in 40 to 50 different sites. By my unofficial count that’s about a gazillion cicada eggs on our 2.9 acres… So we are gathering up prunings of branches, both fallen and cut from trees, and burning them.

Tonight we undid the netting on the two trees we covered. As of now, it doesn’t seem like our efforts made a difference, but the branches are not done dying… We pruned back the trees by about a third. The apples seem to have been hit the worst; the two pear trees the least; the beautiful little cherry may make it, but will never be as symmetrical as it was this spring before the cicada plague began.

Mr. H. C.’s beloved Honey Crisp tree went from 10 feet tall to 6 feet. We’re just grateful that we were slackers this spring and didn’t do the early spring pruning.

Pruning from a Honey Crisp apple tree after the decimation of periodical cicadasThat pile of branches is from one tree. Note the tree in the far background. No, it isn’t October!

Why did we not know that to plant our fruit trees 3 or 4 years ago was, in effect, dooming them from the 17-year-locusts? Why did we waste money, time, effort, and love on these six beautiful little trees? What? Oh, NEXT YEAR is the year to plant fruit trees because then they will have 17 years to grow and be fruitful before the next horde arrives.

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Most people are just delighted that the awful bugs are gone. Everyone has a story about someone they know who was outside doing chores and opened their mouth at the wrong time. It was bonding, living through this plague — there was always something to talk about with strangers in line at the grocery store…

But from everything I’ve read about the life cycle of Magicicada Septendecim, once they hatch in the twigs (after about six weeks) they are the size of grains of rice and they drop to the ground. Really? Cicada maggots the size of rice dropping from trees? I originally thought the dead branches fell with the eggs in them and that’s how the larvae got to the ground. But this quote below is from the OSU Entomology Dept.:

Cicada eggs remain in the twigs for six to ten weeks before hatching. The newly hatched, ant-like nymphs fall to the ground where they burrow six to 18 inches underground to feed.

It definitely implies that the nymphs fall through the air, doesn’t it? There’s something to look forward to in August!

I need a wide-brimmed hat with a veil more than ever…