I’ve been examining these fantastical-looking green balls on one particular hillside for years, wondering what was going on with them. They often looked like strings of green pearls, rooted in the prairie. Was this some bizarre natural feature of the plant? Had it been attacked by an insect and formed a whole cluster of galls?
I recently heard an episode of the In Defense of Plants podcast on insect galls (Ep. 221 – Galls Gone Wild!) and started to understand a bit about these mysterious green balls.
Yes, these are galls. Most likely, they are insect galls, but there are also fungi and other organisms that produce galls.
And surprisingly (to me, at least) they do not actually harm the plant. I had previously believed that they would damage plants and trees, and therefore, it was important to remove them. It turns out that this is not true.
Another surprising fact for me was that galls play an important role in ecosystems. They don’t just benefit the organism that creates them. During the cold, hungry months, insect larvae in the galls can be a valuable food source for creatures that don’t migrate or hibernate. And after a young insect emerges its gall, that gall often becomes a home for many other insects that play important roles in the ecosystem. So if you see a gall on your plant, leave it alone.
Once you become more aware of galls, you can start noticing them everywhere. Try looking for them – you may be surprised what you find!