Invasive tree-eating insects found in some holiday decorations

Agriculture officials are advising Minnesotans to take special precautions when taking down holiday wreaths and greenery as the items may contain invasive insects.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says that people don't have to take down their wreaths or garland right away, but when it’s time to take down the decorations, the items should be destroyed.

“We have not had this insect in Minnesota before,” said Allen Sommerfeld with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “This is the first time that we’ve discovered it.”

So far, state officials have identified two stores in the Twin Cities where the holiday greenery was sold.

“So today we did find wreaths and other greenery at Menards and Home Depots in the metro area that did have this invasive species on them,” said Sommerfeld.

The tiny bugs are called elongate hemlock scale, otherwise known as EHS. The insects have been spotted on wreaths, swags and other items made with real evergreen boughs.

“We contacted the companies and they have agreed and are cooperating with us to pull all of the items that are currently on the shelves, but now we’re relying on the public to do its part,” said Sommerfeld.

Small brown spots are signs of infestation.

“It basically sucks all of the life out of any coniferous trees,” said Sommerfeld. “It attaches itself to the pine needles and will feed on them and then kind of destroy them.”

Originating from Asia, the insects so far have turned up in 17 states. To prevent spreading, officials encouraging that infected items be burned, or bagged up and thrown out.

“It could spread to your evergreen trees in your yards,” he said. “It could get into our Christmas tree industry and nurseries and things like. So, anybody that has an evergreen, a coniferous plant, we’re concerned that this insect may spread into neighborhoods and out into nature as well.”

State officials say that the products have been traced back to North Carolina, where the greenery was grown and assembled before being distributed to the Midwest. In Wisconsin, infected products have also been found at Kmart, Steins and Pick n' Save.