Brown cones on blue spruces; flowery vines in bushes

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I have several nice blue spruces but this year, something weird happened to them. They made brown cones on the tip end of the sideward growing branches. They are just on the ends of about a quarter of the tree. These trees are about 6 feet tall and this is the first time they ever made cones. Why do the cones have what looks like needles sticking out of them?

For the simple reason that the growths are not cones, they are part of the branch.

Blue spruces can get a small gall on the end of the lateral branches. This is called a Cooley spruce gall. It is swollen and might resemble a pineapple or a little blowfish. It is caused a tiny insect called an adelgid.

Mommy adelgid, or more properly “stem mother,” wanders to the end of the branch in mid to late April and lays her eggs next to the terminal bud. The eggs hatch at the kiddies and begin feeding at the base of the new needles. Their feeding induces the spruce to produce a gall that soon envelops the tiny kiddies. Inside and protected, they tiny kiddies grow, unmolested by other insects or the caprices of the weather.

By late July or early August, the kiddies have grown up, the gall turns to a rose pink and then brown and small slits open. The kiddies stampede out and move to the tips of the needles and change into females with wings. The winged females fly off to another spruce or to a Douglas fir, if one is available. Then next spring, in mid April, the females move to the ends of the branches for a repeat of last season.

You have two choices for treatment. In mid April, spray the trees with an insecticide like Sevin or cyfluthrin. Do not use a dormant oil or insecticidal soap because the needles with turn green and stay that way. Or wait for the green galls to appear and clip them off and destroy them before they open in July or August.

Burning or burying is an appropriate end to their mischief. Removing brown open galls doesn’t control the gall-makers; it is just cosmetic. They look neater but everything remains the same.

What is this delightful vine that I see running all over shrubs and small trees in untended areas? It has tiny white flowers that stand like fluffy spires above the leaves. Why am I just seeing it now and where do I buy seeds?

You are seeing a native vine called a wild cucumber. It’s actually a member of the gourd family. This vine starts growing later into the growing season and often the vines begin being visible in late July or August. They run up trees, shrubs or anything vertical and stationary. That’s when they get noticed.

This is considered an annual plant. It comes up each year from a seed. The vine grows, flowers, produces fruit with accompanying seeds and then dies in a few months.

Currently you are seeing lots of starry flowers on long stems that stand above the leaves. Sadly, those cute flowers have no odor. If you get to check out a vine up close and personal, the fruit resembles an oval green blowfish. There is a certain resemblance to a green, headless hedgehog, too. The light green fruit is covered with little spines protruding from the exterior. The spines aren’t sharp. If you tear into fruit, there are two seed cavities with what looks like luffa or loofah sponge surrounding the cavities. Inside, there are usually two large seeds in each cavity.

When the fruit turns yellow, the seeds will be brown and hard. Seeds look like mammoth watermelon seeds. The leaves are large, fresh green and soft to the touch. The vines climb with tendrils and all is green. The vine is lightweight and won’t smother plants. It’s also not edible. Seeds are available on line. The botanical name is Echinocystis lobata. Or find somebody that will let you harvest seeds next month.

Contact Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County horticulture educator, at (517) 546-3950

About Gretchen Voyle 51 Articles
Gretchen Voyle is the MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator. She can be reached at (517) 546-3950.