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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI professor awarded grant to combat ravenous lily leaf beetle

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 7, 1999 -- URI Professor of Entomology Richard Casagrande has been awarded a $10,000 grant from White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Conn., to support his efforts to find biological controls to combat the lily leaf beetle. This ravenous pest was accidentally introduced into the Boston area from its native Europe in 1992 and has since spread to all New England states. It may spread further if unchecked.

The slug-like larvae of the beetle feed heavily on lilies, causing extensive damage and eventually killing the plants. Because they carry their excrement on their backs, the larvae resemble bird droppings more than immature beetles, and repulse birds and many other natural predators. Although pesticides and hand-picking offer individual gardeners some defense, these methods are impractical for widespread use in the wild.

But there is hope. In its native Europe, the lily leaf beetle is limited by natural enemies such as tiny parasitic wasps. Casagrande and his students have identified three European parasitic wasps that may be effective in the U.S., but their research has been hindered because the tiny wasps are hard to raise in the laboratory. The White Flower Farm grant will enable Casagrande to have colleagues in Europe collect large numbers of parasites for URI's research efforts. Casagrande hopes to release one type of parasitic wasp in the field as early as May.

Casagrande is delighted to receive the support of White Flower Farm. The organization first contacted him after one of its employees, Robert Herman, a 1970 URI graduate in environmental and life sciences, read about Casagrande's work in combating the lily leaf beetle.

"I,ve had a hard time getting grant support for this problem from my traditional federal funding sources"it is just not a priority for them, Casagrande says. "With White Flower Farm's support, our research team may solve this pest problem before it spreads throughout the rest of the country.

"We are happy to support this important research effort, said White Flower Farm President Lorraine T. Calder. "We have great hopes for a biological control that eliminates the need for any pesticide spraying. We prefer to use, as do our customers, organic methods whenever possible. A natural control will also have the added benefit of protecting our wild lily populations in addition to our garden plants.

The lily leaf beetle looks a bit like a ladybug. It is scarlet in color, with black legs, head and antennae. It has no black spots, however, and its body is oblong rather than round. The beetle turns its antennae away from day lilies, which do not belong to the lily family, but will feed and reproduce on Turk's cap lilies, tiger lilies, Easter lilies, Asiatic and Oriental lilies. The beetle will also nibble on potato leaves, Solomon's seal, nightshade, bull briar and hosta.

Hybrid Asiatic and Oriental lilies are a long-time favorite of White Flower Farm's customers and staff. "As the co-founder, William Harris, wrote decades ago, the lily is one of the great garden plants of all time., We hope this research will allow gardeners to continue to enjoy these beautiful flowers for many years to come, Calder said.

White Flower Farm is a family-owned mail order nursery. For 49 years, it has supplied knowledgeable gardeners with high quality perennials, annuals, bulbs, vines and shrubs. White Flower Farm grows most of the plants that it sells.

This research effort is part of URI's broader commitment to sustainable land practices that reduce the use of chemical pesticides and preserve natural resources.

For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116

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