By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Petunia saw a bug crawling across her kitchen floor and promptly screamed for Bunkey. “There’s a cockroach in the kitchen!” she yelled. Bunkey arrived and saw a bug leisurely strolling across the kitchen floor, obviously not a cockroach. This critter was stout, reddish brown with some white markings and about ¾ inches long. The wings made an X across it’s back.  Bunkey picked the insect up and took a look at its belly, It was orange with black stripes, rather attractive, actually. It had slender needle-like mouth parts, large back legs that suggested it might be a type of grasshopper, but he had never seen a grasshopper with what looked like leaf on its legs. That was the clue he needed. 

Getting his “bug book” down, he discovered he had a Western Conifer Seed Bug, one of the family of leaf-footed bugs.

This bug was first found in Minnesota in 1985. During the summer it feeds on sap from green cones and needles of many different pine species as well as the Douglas-fir. The feeding doesn’t seem to injure landscape plantings here.

The immature nymphs develop into adults sometime during August. In the fall the adults search for protected sites to spend the winter and your attic, walls or other nooks and crannies that they can squeeze into, look like a perfect place to spend the winter. As long as the hiding place stays cold, they are dormant, however, if for some reason their hiding place warms up, they wake up and start wandering. Unlike cockroaches, the Conifer Seed bug will be seen in the daytime and they stroll across your wall or floor.

These bugs are harmless to people (try telling that to Petunia) and don’t attack our food or damage our property they just bug us. They don’t lay eggs in the house either. The bug you see in the winter snuck in last fall. You can pick them up and pitch them out the door or, if you can’t pick up a bug, vacuum him up. don’t head for the bug spray. There are only a few of them and you don’t need to be breathing insecticide.

Now to a totally different subject. Scientists are hard at work developing disease resistant plants by the integration of foreign DNA into them. DNA is the genetic material that is the blueprint that controls how an organism develops. This foreign DNA is a gene to confer resistance to a given disease into the plant genome. The resulting plant is called ‘transgenic’.

One of experiments they did was to transfer Luciferase, the active enzyme that makes fireflies light up, into a tobacco plant. Now they had tobacco that could light up by itself. The darn thing glowed in the dark. Wouldn’t that make a nice plant to line your sidewalk? This type of experiment shed light on a new way to studying plant pathology. The result is corn and soybeans that are resistant to herbicides and potatoes with Bt toxin in the leaves that kill potato bugs that chew on them. Not sure many home gardeners wanted that spud. May not be available any longer, but one could find it in some seed catalogs for a few years.

  One good thing that came of these studies are flowers that are resistant to powdery mildew like the David phlox, zinnias and monarda and rust resistant hollyhocks and grey mold resistant petunias.

You may not want to eat transgenic corn but Bunkey loves transgenic flowers that are resistant to common diseases. He hates to use chemicals on his flowers, and he doesn’t eat them.