Cuckoo spit on plants

by Pippa Greenwood

Gardeners are well known for loving beautiful things, but it would have made anyone smile to see the sight of four garden experts pouring over a 'beautiful plant' the other evening.

Cuckoo spit on a plantGardeners are well known for loving beautiful things, but it would have made anyone smile to see the sight of four garden experts pouring over a 'beautiful plant' the other evening.

We were recording Gardeners' Question Time in Weymouth and, having just been sitting out on the grass we all trooped in to the back of the hall ready for that ever-exciting moment when we walk on stage and face our audience.

But suddenly we all stopped and there was a chorus of "doesn't that look lovely", "look at that". Bob Flowerdew and I were particularly enthusiastic about the sight: a two or three foot tall mound of foliage which, at first glance, was covered in what appeared to be elegant white flower clusters. It looked gorgeous. But as soon as our mouths had opened we realised that no, it was not a delightful and uncommon shrub that we had never seen before, but simply one liberally decorated with 'cuckoo spit'.

Frog hopper emerging from protective spit on leafThe frothy white liquid looked like super-delicate flowers - a reminder that even the dreaded pests and diseases can look good. Cuckoo spit usually appears from about June onwards and inside the fascinating glob of 'spit' are immature (or nymph) frog hoppers, most commonly Philaenus spumarius. They sit in the wonderfully protected frothy nests until fully mature, when they stop producing the 'spit'. If cuckoo spit appears on your plants try to do as we did, and see the attractive side of it. If that seems impossible then relax, these little critters do little if any significant damage, at most their feeding results in a little bit of shoot distortion, so leave them alone, or if you really can't bear them, remove them by hand-picking or jetting them off with a hose.

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Gardeners' World Web User 21/06/2008 at 11:58

It's a great trick to show the packets of froth to children. Wiping off the bubbles with a blade of grass reveals the pale green nymph inside. Then if you wait, they start to blow bubbles again, gyrating their tails as they lather up.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/06/2008 at 20:17

Yes, Sandra. Buddleia globosa is yellow, but as the name suggests, the flowers are globe-shaped, unlike the purple kinds.

Gardeners' World Web User 27/06/2008 at 10:18

I am growing peppers in my greenhouse and I have noticed that the leaves are getting little holes in them, rather as if they have been eaten by something. I can't see any sign of any flies or bugs anywhere and I just wondered if anyone had any ideas or come across this problem before, and more importantly, any remedies! Thanks for your help.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/06/2008 at 10:15

I've got a "Pitcher Plant" in a large pot in the garden. I've had it for about seven years, I leave it out all the year round, all weathers and as long as I give it rain water to drink and flies to eat, it's OK.

This year it has flowered....amazing. It's getting a bit large for the pot now, so I could pot it up....but can any one tell me if it's possible to split it ? What's the best way to do it? Can I collect the seed and grow from seed?

Gardeners' World Web User 08/07/2008 at 10:19

I have a 15 yr old Daphne in the garden whose leaves begin to fall after the green berries have formed. Therefore no red fruit in autumn or leaves.This has happened for two years. is she past her sell by date or is there another reason? she is flanked by a miniature lilac and a hosta at the base of the bush. should I prune back?

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