Anyone who gardens in the eastern U.S. is familiar with the Japanese beetle, that voracious consumer of just about anything green in the garden. It is one of the most destructive pests east of the Mississippi (and continually extending its range), and more than $450 million dollars is spent each year in efforts to control it and to replace plants it has damaged.
So somehow, it just seems fitting that this devourer of leaf and blossom may meet its match in a geranium. Since the 1920s, scientists have noted that when Japanese beetles feed on the flowers of Pelargonium zonale, the cheerful geranium that graces many a garden, within 30 minutes they become paralyzed for about 24 hours. Now Chris Ranger, an entomologist at the Agricultural Research Service Technology Research Unit in Wooster, Ohio, is working to develop a natural, botanic pesticide based on the compounds in the geranium petals that have such a harmful effect on the beetles.
And wouldn't that be beetle karmic justice?
For more information on this and other research that is part of ARS Program 304, Crop Protection and Quarantine, go to: Agricultural Research Service.
Article published on April 15, 2010.