Will the Cicadas Hurt Your Plants? - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Will the Cicadas Hurt Your Plants?

You’ve no doubt heard about the large brood of 17-year cicadas that will soon emerge in New York City and beyond. If you garden, you’ve probably wondered what these gigantic insects might do to your plants. The good news is that adult cicadas (Magicicada species), though large and noisy, do not tend to do much damage. The primary reason for their emergence is to mate! That deafening song is a mating call. Eating plants is probably one of the last things on a cicada’s mind.

Cicada grubs do eat plant roots and are a common underground pest, but they’re not too serious, and any harm that this brood has done was done in previous years. The only damage adult cicadas are likely to cause plants, even during a heavy emergence, is from ovipositing. The females cut small V-shaped slits into tree bark or plant stems to deposit their eggs. This can cause branches or stems to flag, but it’s generally not a major concern for healthy plants and trees.

Cicadas can’t bite or sting people, and they are not poisonous. They are mostly pesky only because of their loud singing, imposing presence, and conspicuous numbers. Please do not think about using pesticides on them. It’s unnecessary and not at all justified.

More: Cicadas are considered true bugs, but ants and bees aren't. Learn why.

Overall, the emergence of the 17-year cicadas should be an amazing phenomenon to observe. They are quite beautiful in their own right, and their song is among the loudest in the insect world. They are also one of the longest-lived insects on earth and are a symbol of good fortune and immortality in various cultures around the world. So instead of likening cicadas to a plague of locusts, try to enjoy their short visit and appreciate them in all their noisy glory. You can check out Radiolab’s citizen science–produced cicada-prediction map and read more about this Magicicada brood online at EarthSky.org.

Melanie Sifton is the vice president of Horticulture and Facilities at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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Image, top of page: William Pixler