How Charlotte wormed its way out of a longtime sticky scourge
Charlotte has nearly rid itself of a problem that bedeviled the city for years. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his On My Mind commentary, wonders if that’s a model we could live by one inch at a time.
The other day I heard a word I hadn’t thought of in a long time. It gave me a little shiver just to think about it.
The word was cankerworm.
Those of you who have lived in Charlotte a while might have just gotten a little shiver of your own.
WFAE’s Nick de la Canal recently did a story on the city’s battle against cankerworms.
For several years in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, cankerworms were a regular nightmare — scarier than 5 o’clock traffic on Independence, more terrifying than an eight-hour city council meeting.
Every spring, in our tree-lined neighborhoods, hundreds of thousands of inch-long green worms came down from the trees, each one hanging on a sticky thread. They would always dangle at exactly the height of your face. Going for a walk was like fighting through an endless spider web. You’d come home and find worms on your clothes, in your hair, crawling across the back of your neck. I am a peaceful man but I happily mushed many a cankerworm to the great worm farm in the sky.
It wasn’t just that they icked people out. Before the worms dropped down, they’d strip trees of their young leaves. We have a little cherry tree in our front yard. One year, I swear, we sat on the porch and could hear the worms chewing the leaves.
It got so bad that Charlotte literally carpet-bombed the city to get rid of the cankerworms. The city paid half a million bucks back in 2008 to drop insecticide on 63,000 acres of our tree canopy.
We also fought them at street level. Cankerworms burrow into the ground and transform into moths. The female moths, who are wingless, clamber up trees around this time of year to lay eggs. The way to stop them is to cover trees with a band of plastic, covered with a band of insulation, covered with a sticky goo that traps the moths before they get to egg-laying height.
Hardware stores used to have tree-banding kits right at the front door this time of year. But we have pretty much won the battle with the cankerworm. As Nick said in his story, city workers counted just 121 adult moths on city-banded trees last year. That compares to 35,000 to 40,000 six or seven years ago.
You still see a cankerworm or two in the spring now and then. The city is banding about 500 trees on its property this year to tamp down any population that’s left.
It’s a reminder to me that, despite our skepticism, sometimes we can pull together to get things done. Thousands of property owners worked with the local government to rid ourselves of a problem.
It wasn’t a huge problem, in the scheme of things. But it did improve Charlotte’s quality of life. Here’s a city slogan for you: Life is a whole lot better without a tree full of worms in your face.
Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at email@example.com.