Among the various scares we face daily—wars, tornadoes, illness, you name it, it’s all in the newspaper every day—one of the saddest is blights. Now there’s a word we don’t use a lot: blight! It has an ancient ring to it, something Dickensian, like “catarrh”; “carbuncle” –certainly curable conditions. But incurable blights are still with us. I studied some that attacked sugar maple trees in Vermont when I was researching Vermont sugar farms for A GODSEND: A Love Story for Grownups, the ebook I co-wrote with my husband. Maple trees, in addition to their sensitivity to periodic freezes, have had their growth stunted by acid rain, and their buds decimated by insects—aphids, parathrips, and the newest and most awful, the Asian Longhorn Beetle. A maple-sugar farmer, as our heroine is, is constantly on the watch for these blights that can ruin her livelihood.
It’s one thing to research a character’s life—her unique worries, her vulnerabilities. But here in southern Connecticut where I live, a new blight has been racing like fire across our land for the last five months, and it’s that’s grave enough to be cited by Dr. Sandra Douglas of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. It’s Cylindrocladium, or Boxwood blight, an incurable fungus so insidious, according to Wendy Lindquist, the landscape designer who alerted me to it, “it must be removed and disposed of properly—not put into a compost or brush pile.” Boxwoods, those hardy, deer- and shade-resistant plants so many homes cherish for their simple, clean beauty and ease of care, are suddenly being wiped out within a week of getting infected.
So check yours out, if you have them. Go to www.greenx.com/blog to get a sense of what to look for. Tell your friends. And don’t plant boxwoods this year until you speak with a professional.