Who are the Plant Heroes?

The Plant Heroes are four young adults who share a love of nature and interest in science. The American Public Gardens Association heard about their passion and invited them to join together as a "super team" to detect and combat bugs and diseases that harm plants and ecosystem health. The Plant Heroes scout for these threats and report suspicious sightings to their county extension or local forester, who contacts officials, provides mission details and scientific supplies in order to defeat the bad bugs and diseases. 

The Plant Heroes need your help, too! The more you know about the pests and diseases that threaten your region, the more you can protect the plants in your own yard and neighborhood. Explore this site to learn more about what to look for and how to report pests and diseases, and then you, too, can be an important part of the Plant Heroes team! 

Aponi Star

Aponi lives in rural Southeast Illinois and has a keen interest in tree health as it relates to keeping the region green and sustainable. Of note is Aponi’s interest in butterflies, bees, and wasps... particularly the Cerceris fumipennis wasp which assists in the detection of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). She is a hero in her town for being the first resident in Southeast Illinois to spot and report EAB. In her free time outside of high school, she inspects ash trees and installs traps to catch the invasive EAB beetle and prevent it from spreading further.

EAB is an insect from Asia that was first discovered in North America in 2002. This nasty beetle kills ash trees over a three- to five-year period. Adults are dark metallic green and about the size of a small jelly bean. They bore through ash trees and lay eggs which then turn into adults and leave a small "D"-shaped hole in the tree when they exit. You may see purple boxes around forested areas. These boxes, as well as the crafty Cerceris fumipennis wasp, can help save infested forested areas. Aponi is after this ghastly green dude and wants to help protect the trees.

Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Frankie Barker

Frankie hails from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, and has loved to climb trees since he was a small child. After learning about the oxygen that trees produce, Frankie began thinking of trees as “the lungs of the Earth,” and has taken it as his mission to protect them. His climbing abilities are legendary in his part of the woods as is his desire to learn all he can about protecting trees. He has extensive knowledge about tree health and the diabolical foreign bugs like the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) that seek to wreak havoc in his backyard, his neighborhood, and the US Northeast.

Imagine walking down a shaded, tree-lined street in your neighborhood. Now imagine your neighboorhood without the sun-protection and natural beauty green trees provide. ALB attacks many different kinds of trees, and Frankie has seen several beautiful trees in his neighborhood disappear because of this nasty bug. The most common method of control is to remove infested trees, so finding ALB early is really important. Frankie can show you what to look for, and then you, too, can help stop ALB from spreading further! 

Photo: Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org

Laura Wilkins

Laura lives in Athens, Georgia, where she learned about the dastardly Laurel Wilt disease that threatens most Laurel family trees in the region. The disease is caused by a fungus that is introduced into host trees by a non-native insect, the nasty Redbay Ambrosia Beetle. Her love of trees in her region and passionate interest in ecology and science has naturally led her to study this subject as a college freshman.

This bogus beetle bores into the woody tissues of trees and introduces a fungus that causes Laurel Wilt. Once inside, Laurel Wilt clogs the tissues that move water, which in turn causes leaves to turn brown and dieback to occur on the branches of infected trees. Trees likely to be damaged by this tough guy are redbay, swampbay, sassafras and even avocado. The Redbay Ambrosia Beetle and its nefarious partner Laurel Wilt have caused tree death along the Atlantic coast of Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. Invaders like these guys have a significant impact on the native flora and fauna, and pose a major threat to natural ecosystems. Laura is determined to learn more about her nemisis and to eliminate Laurel Wilt disease by stopping the fungus-faced Redbay Ambrosia Beetle. Join her in the fight!

Photo: Michael C. Thomas, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org

Nate Green

Nate lives in Tacoma, Washington, and has a keen interest in the fungi, mushrooms, and deadly diseases that threaten the region's forests. His focus is on Phytopthora ramorum, a water mold that causes Ramorum Blight (popularly known as Sudden Oak Death). This disease, which thrives in moist, mild environs, has laid waste to oaks in the Northwest. Nate's outgoing and adventurous nature can sometimes lead him to unconventional methods of detection, but he looks up to his partner, Laura, who helps him understand the science side of defending trees and provides balance to Nate’s tendency to take exploration to the extreme.

Phytophthora ramorum is the cause of both Sudden Oak Death, a forest disease that has caused the major dieback of several oaks and tanoaks in California, Oregon, and west coast forests, and Ramorum Blight, which affects the leaves and twigs of numerous other plants in forests and nurseries. SO not cool. Nate makes sure the deadly water mold does not spread to other locations and informs the proper authorities when he spots this nasty beast!

Photo: Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org