Spittlebugs are part of the Cercopidae family. It is an insect with more than 23,000 species. They form a strange foam on their host plant, which is their most obvious sign of presence. They are named after the spittle-like froth that they produce. They can make your plants unattractive. The good news is that with the right knowledge on how to get rid of spittlebugs, it will be easy for you to deal with the problem.
Spittlebugs are also known as froghoppers. They create a foam in their body, which looks like a spittle. When they feed on plants, they take out the sap of their hosts. In turn, they release it from their back and this is the foam that provides them protection from extreme temperature and their predators. They also use it for hydration. The production of foam, however, is exclusive only to nymphs or young spittlebugs. It takes approximately one month for a nymph to fully transition into an adult. When they are eggs, meanwhile, their overwintering site is leaf litter.
One of their most common physical characteristics is the strong hind legs, which they use to easily jump. The color of spittlebugs can be anywhere from brown to black. Some species have noticeable two yellow lines on their back. On average, the length of an adult spittlebug will be 1/3 inch. In terms of the external environment, they thrive in places that are humid and moist.
Macro of a Spittlebug Surrounded in Spittle on a Green Leaf
- Spittlebug’s Habitat
- Identifying Spittlebug’s Damage
- How to Get Rid of Spittlebugs
- Is that foam on leaves really snake spit?
- Who spit on my shrubbery?
- Connect With Us!
- Oh, That’s A Spittlebug
- So What’s That Spittle Doing To My Garden?
- Kicking Spittlebugs To The Curb
- See a wad of foam on your plants? It’s a spitbug
- ‘Snake Spit’ Is Actually From Spittlebugs
- Quick facts about spittlebugs
- How to identify spittlebugs
- How to protect your plants from spittlebugs
- Spittle Bugs
The habitat of spittlebugs can be widespread. Aside from the garden, they are also present in meadows, farmlands, and parks. Basically, they can survive in any place where plants grow, providing them with a stable supply of food. The eggs start in the leaf litter. When they hatch as nymphs, they will feed on the upper parts of the plant, preparing young tissues or tender foliage. More often than not, they are hard to spot because of the foam that they use as a covering for the body.
Identifying Spittlebug’s Damage
Ornamental grasses and herbaceous plants are some of the most common hosts for spittlebugs. To be specific, you can find them in strawberries, roses, chrysanthemums, morning glory, Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass, clover, and asters, among others.
Unsure if spittlebugs are causing cosmetic damages on your plants? Below are some of the signs that you should watch out for:
- The appearance of foam is the easiest way to spot spittlebugs. However, this is only for nymphs. When they are already adults, they stop the production of foam. They become quick and mobile, making it more challenging to find them in the garden.
- The first signs of damage will not be easily evident on the surface of the host plant. With this, check the underside of a leaf. There will be a pale mottling, which is a result of feeding on the sap of the leaves.
- They will also cause distortions on the leaves. Nonetheless, this may not be as severe as with what you can expect from other common garden pests.
- Pay attention to the color of the grass as well. The feeding of spittlebug will make it turn yellowish. Eventually, it will wilt and die.
Results of Infestation
In most instances, the feeding of spittlebugs on plants will lead to damages that are purely cosmetic. They will cause unattractive appearance of the leaves and the fruit. If the infestation is severe or if there is high population of the spittlebugs, they can lead to stunting. They can also make the fruits of berries smaller than normal. Other than this, there are no serious damages that you can expect from spittlebugs. They also do not cause significant economic losses.
Spittlebugs Causes Unattractive Appearance of Leaves
How to Get Rid of Spittlebugs
Natural and Organic Solutions
Below is a quick look at some of the best solutions that can prove to be effective in the prevention and elimination of spittlebugs:
- Garden sanitation is one of the simplest solutions to the problem. Get rid of leaf litter or any decaying vegetation. They will provide overwintering spots for the eggs. If there is no suitable habitat, it will be less likely that the spittlebugs will be an issue in your garden.
- If you can see the spittlebugs, physical removal will help. It will be good to exclude them while they are still eggs or nymphs. When they transform into adults, they will be quick movers and removing them will be hard. After removing, throw them in a bucket of soapy water.
- The removal of weeds in the garden will also help. There are weeds that can be susceptible to spittlebugs. Plus, it is one of their major food sources. If there is nothing to eat, they will not stay in your garden.
- Rather than using pesticides with toxic chemicals, you can make an organic spray to kill spittlebugs. Combine garlic, hot pepper, liquid soap, and water. You will have an instant natural spray that will be effective in deterring the presence of spittlebugs.
- If you are looking for natural insect repellents, neem oil can also be a good choice. It is made from an essential oil that will form a protective barrier on plants to keep the pesky spittlebugs away.
- You can also consider using row covers. This will protect the plants from the pest. However, take note that you have to remove the cover in time for pollination. Nets will also make a great choice for cover because it encourages penetration of natural light.
Chemicals have a bad reputation when it comes to pest control. They contain harsh ingredients, which make them toxic to humans and pests. With this, the use of chemicals should be your last resort. Use this only if the population is too large and difficult to control with the use of natural methods.
Some of the active ingredients in the chemicals for the treatment of spittlebugs include cyfluthrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, and lambda-cyhalothrin. They are available in a wide array of trade names. Regardless of which one you choose, be sure to follow the instructions from the manufacturer regarding its proper application. To add, in some cases, repeat application will be necessary.
Is that foam on leaves really snake spit?
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Have you noticed a foam-like substance on your grass and plants lately? A hike around the lake Monday had me worried sick that snakes must be everywhere. I had always been under the impression that the foam was spit from a snake.
After a little research, I found that this is a big misconception. In fact, that foam has nothing to do with a snake or spit!
Have you ever heard of a spittlebug? Yeah, I hadn’t either. The foamy substance you’re seeing on your plants is actually the home of a spittlebug. The bug will get on your plant and then produce this soapy looking substance and then crawl inside the bubbles to protect itself from predators and extreme temperatures.
The bug shouldn’t do any damage to your plants, other than the eyesore the soap-looking substance causes. You’ll likely never see the spittlebug as they are good at hiding. They will feed off of your plant, but usually not enough to cause any problems.
If you don’t want the spittlebug on your plants a good spray with a water hose should do the trick. And to prevent them from nesting in your area make sure to do a good yard/garden clean up each year, they really like old plant material.
Who spit on my shrubbery?
Want to meet Mike? Mike will tell you everything you need to know to enjoy your best-tasting tomatoes ever, and answer all your growing questions in a free lecture and Q&A from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Behnke’s 5th Annual Garden Party event on Saturday, June 6. for details.
Who spit on my shrubbery?
Gwen in Middleburg sent us a photo of a healthy looking plant with a big mass of frothy white material between two of the branches and asks, “Can you ID this nasty stuff on my Moonbeam Coreopsis?”
The spittlebug leaves behind what looks like spit. (Courtesy Gwen Alred)
Yes Gwen, that big glob of spit-like stuff is the nursery of the “spittlebug” — or at least that’s what you call this life stage of a fascinating group of insects with virtually unpronounceable Latin names (Philaenus spumarius for the common meadow spittlebug). That soap-bubble-like froth is concealing a whole bunch of little creatures in the insect’s nymphal stage. They are sucking some juice out of the plant, but generally it’s not enough to cause any harm.
If you let them mature, they’ll grow into froghoppers, a really cool jumping bug that is the best leaper in the insect world relative to its body size. But if you don’t care to watch the high jump, there’s no need to reach for a chemical spray. I’m not even sure that sprays can reach the little buggers in there. The best way to eliminate the little spits is to spray the bugs off your plants with very sharp streams of water — the sharpest, most laserlike spray your nozzle can deliver.
Snake-nado: Get those snakes on a plane
There was a great story on WTOP earlier this week about a family suing because the home they recently purchased on the Broadneck Peninsula is “infested” with snakes. Black rat snakes, to be specific. And they claim there was a seven footer in the basement.
Rat snakes can achieve a good length, but odds are good that like the fish that got away, a seven-foot snake will likely have shrunk down to around four feet by the time it’s captured.
As the story noted, these kinds of snakes, although scary, don’t hurt humans. But they do dine almost exclusively on rats, mice and other vermin — which had to be in abundance in that home or the snakes wouldn’t waste their time there. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a couple of snakes in the house over a family of rats any day.
Outdoors, it’s an even easier choice to not freak out at your free vermin control. Hey — I wonder if they ever take evil squirrels out to lunch?
It’s still safe to prune late bloomers like goldenrod
Beth in Silver Spring writes: “Is it possible to trim the long stalks of the Solidago named “Golden Fleece” that I planted last year to try to keep them from getting too tall and leggy? They’re only supposed to get about 18 inches tall but they’re that size now and still going. I’d like to keep them small if possible. But if I trim them now will I lose the flowers?”
Don’t worry, you can trim your golden fleece. (Courtesy Beth Stewart)
Well Beth, your “fleece of gold” is a highly ornamental goldenrod cultivar, and all goldenrods bloom in late summer. So you can cut it back a bit now and you’ll still get flowers on time.
But your “fleece” is also a re-bloomer, so if you leave it alone now, you can cut the first run of flowers to bring inside for display and the plant will produce a second set of blooms shortly afterward. Your choice.
Oh, and although it gets a bad rap, goldenrod does not trigger fall allergies. It’s heavy pollen is carried by bees, not the wind.
Mosquito control advice: Yes, yes and point of information
WTOP’s own Dick Uliano had a great story this week about outdoor mosquito control around the home, quoting a spokesman for the American Mosquito Control Association who wisely advised against the outdoor misting systems that constantly pump pesticide into the air and those old-school bug zappers that have long been shown to only fry moths and good bugs, not the little blood suckers. Excellent advice.
But then the spokesman cast a vote against the natural mosquito repelling sprays like garlic oil, cedar and oil of clove “because they’re not EPA registered.”
That’s splitting hairs. All three products fall under the EPA’s “25 B” category, meaning that their ingredients have been around a long time, are naturally derived and “generally recognized as safe.” Products that fall into this category are exempt from registration and are 100 percent legal.
Will Montgomery County fly a “don’t spray on me” flag?
All eyes will be on the Montgomery County Council a week from Monday as members once again debate bill 52-14, legislation that seeks to restrict the use of “cosmetic” pesticides on Montgomery County lawns.
And no, cosmetic doesn’t mean applying lipstick to your fescue or giving your bluegrass a tummy-tuck. It means herbicides like Roundup, which has an active ingredient recently designated a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, and 2-4, D, which is under similar review right now.
Bottom line: Chemical herbicides are ineffective and unnecessary methods of weed control. Weeds will always appear in poorly cut, overfed lawns, and all the chemicals in the world can’t prevent it.
The only real and sustainable way to control weeds is to cut your lawn at the right height (that’s 3 inches for the predominant cool-season grasses in our region) with a sharp blade (duh) and feed it gently at the correct times of year — which is spring and fall only for cool-season grasses, never, ever in the heat of summer.
Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.
Connect With Us!
PHOTO: Kevin Fogleby Kevin Fogle July 11, 2016
As a child, I was fascinated by the frothy white masses commonly found on the strawberry plants in my parent’s garden. I investigated every one of these bubbly spit-like anomalies to get a glimpse of the strange green or yellow creatures that called them home. The insects that captivated my childhood imagination are known as spittlebugs, an insect closely related to leafhoppers.
Oh, That’s A Spittlebug
Immature spittlebug nymphs and their spittle homes are a common sight in many late-spring and early-summer gardens and yards. The foam is formed when the nymphs munch on plant sap and secrete the excess moisture. The function of this spittle is three fold. It:
- provides refuge from predators
- controls temperature extremes
- regulates relative moisture of their immediate environment
The spittle masses can get up to 3/4 inch large and tend to occur at the junction between the leaf and stem. Once the spittlebug nymph matures, it stops producing spittle and ventures out in the wide world in search of a mate and more plant sap.
Adult spittlebugs have triangular-shaped bodies about 1/4 inch long and come in a wide variety of colorations based on the species. The adult is often called a froghopper due its hopping locomotion and its unique face, which reminds many gardeners of frogs.
So What’s That Spittle Doing To My Garden?
There are 20 to 30 spittlebug species found throughout North America. The good news is that most of these spittlebug species are not interested in consuming your vegetable garden, though there are a few pest spittlebugs species, like the meadow spittlebug, that could affect crops like strawberries, legumes and some grains. Unless spittlebug populations are very high, the damage caused by their feeding is no big deal. While feeding nymphs can distort the strawberry fruit and leaves, plants likely won’t die even though productivity could go down. Also, while spittlebugs are capable of spreading bacterial and fungal plant diseases, they’re not that good at it, so you don’t usually have anything to worry about.
Kicking Spittlebugs To The Curb
When dealing with spittlebugs, the simplest organic control is through physical removal of the insects either by hand-picking or spraying water on all visible spittle masses. If populations grow out of hand and become troublesome, consider trying an organic insecticidal soap spray that is rated for spittlebugs—but be aware that the nymphs are rather well protected from chemical agents in their spittle dwellings.
Spittlebug: A Unique Little Insect
By Joan Allen
Spittlebug Foam. Photo credit: Gerald J. Lenhard, Louisiana State University, Bugwood.org
Spittlebugs are common and easily recognized by the white foamy ‘spittle’ produced by the nymph or immature stage of the insects as they feed. Adults are less commonly seen but are commonly known as froghoppers (close relatives of leafhoppers, etc). Depending on the reference, there are anywhere from 30 to 60+ spittlebug species in the United States. All feed on plants, including both woody and herbaceous types. Some spittlebugs have broad host ranges and others narrow.
There is usually only one generation per year and most overwinter in the egg stage inside overwintering plant tissue where they were deposited by the females in from mid to late summer to early fall, depending on species. Hatch occurs in the spring, probably in May in Connecticut. Even though spittlebugs feed by extracting plant sap/juice through needle-like mouth parts, they seldom cause notable injury to the plant. There are a few exceptions including the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) and the pine spittlebug (Aphrophora cribata).
The meadow spittlebug has a broad host range that includes both herbaceous and woody plants. It is reported to cause damage in clover, strawberry, mint, herbaceous ornamentals and both coniferous and broad-leaved woody plants when present in high numbers. Other common names include the common froghopper and the cuckoo spit (most common name in the UK). Eggs are laid in the stems or crevices of host plants in the fall. When they hatch in the spring, nymphs usually feed on the plant the eggs were laid on but they will move to younger more tender tissues as the plant grows. There are five nymph stages and all produce spittle as they feed. Once the adult stage is reached, spittle is no longer produced and the adult is quite mobile, quickly jumping a long distance relative to its size when disturbed.
The froghoppers or adult stage are so-called because their bodies are somewhat wider at the rear like a frog. The name
Spittlebug nymph. Photo credit: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org
cuckoo spit may have come about because the spittle tends to be first seen in the spring around the same time that the first calls of the cuckoo bird are heard. Most adults are brown to green in color with only subtle markings but some species have striking coloration or patterns. The meadow spittlebug adult is quite variable in coloration.
So, about the spittle. The spittle offers some clear benefits to the nymph(s) hiding within. First, it helps prevent the soft-bodied little guys from drying out. In addition, it protects them from detection by potential parasites and predators. A single mass of spittle may be inhabited by multiple nymphs feeding in the same area on the plant. How is the spittle produced? First, the spittlebug ingests more plant sap than it needs for its nutrition/sustenance. The excess is expelled through the anus as a watery waste product. It mixes with a mucilaginous fluid produced by glands on the abdomen and air bubbles are introduced from a special canal by abdominal contractions. This is pretty interesting stuff going on in gardens, forests and meadows all around us each spring and early summer!
If you would like to get a closer look at a nymph, don’t be afraid to brush the foam carefully away from a plant and look for them inside. They will be up to ¼” long depending on their stage of development and may be yellowish, greenish or brown in color. They are elongated and generally are positioned head down. This facilitates the movement of the spittle downward to cover them. Nymphs are shy and will not be happy to be exposed. They will attempt to walk away but cannot run or fly.
Adult meadow spittlebug. Photo credit: Cheryl Moorehead, Bugwood.org
The biggest problem with spittlebugs in the garden, whether it’s an ornamental or food garden, is the unsightliness of the spittle masses. Spittle and nymphs can both be washed off the plants with a steady stream of water. On a small scale, they can be hand-removed and disposed of. Normally, no chemical controls are recommended and the spittle protects nymphs from contact insecticides. Not sure if there are enough spittlebugs to cause plants to be weakened? Look for distorted or stunted new growth, and of course numerous spittle masses on the same plant.
See a wad of foam on your plants? It’s a spitbug
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‘Snake Spit’ Is Actually From Spittlebugs
Spittlebugs nymphs hide themselves quickly in a cloak of foam and begin eating turfgrass or whatever else is available. Photo by Les Harrison
Natural Wakulla by Les Harrison
Snakes have come down through history with a generally bad reputation. They collectively have been accused, and occasionally guilty, of a plethora of crimes and misdeeds
To start off, there was that issue with Adam and Eve. Then Cleopatra used one to permanently escape the wrath of Julius Caesar and the Roman legions.
Even in recent time, these reptiles have been accused of a hygienic misdemeanor, leaving evidence in the grassy lawns or Wakulla County residents. Foamy white “snake spit” appears even in the most sanitary of local lawn.
In reality the culprit is a native insect in a larval state, not a coldblooded expectorator which visited silently and unseen. Immature spittlebugs hide themselves this way as to deceive the casual observer and potential predator.
Spittlebugs are present throughout the entire state and are most abundant in northern and northwestern Florida. The adult Prosapia bicincta feed on a wide variety of native and ornamental plants common in Wakulla County
Their propensity to attack turfgrass species is what commonly calls attention to their presence. Centipede grass is the most susceptible to their damage, and this turf is commonly under stress because of soil conditions in coastal Florida not favorable to this popular species of grass.
Adult two-lined spittlebugs are easy to identify if seen. They are about 1/4 inch long with black bodies, red eyes and legs, and have two orange stripes across their wings.
The mature spittlebugs are commonly active during early morning, but hide near the soil surface during the heat of the day. They are capable of a split second hop when a threatening situation is perceived.
The nymphs are yellow or a creamy white in color with a distinct brown head, but are rarely seen. They are cloaked by a mass of white frothy foam which they excrete for protection.
The foam has the appearance, at least to humans, as a projected expectoration or spittle from some uncouth trespasser. The opaque mass is not inviting and covers this insect’s hidden agenda.
During the nymph stage this native pest is feeding on its plant host. Most spittle masses occur near the soil surface or in thatch making them observable, but only to those who are looking.
Some dried spittle masses may appear high on the host plant during adult’s emergence. High moisture and humid conditions favor their development and flourishing populations.
Spittlebug numbers tend to be higher during years with ample spring and summer rainfall, like 2017. For home owners and landscape managers, excessive thatch accumulation also favors a spittlebug population explosion by providing an excellent incubation site for the nymphs.
There are usually two to three generations per year, depending on weather conditions. The life cycle requires about two and a half months. Eggs are laid in hollow grass stems or behind the leaf sheaths.
The late season eggs overwinter and hatch the following spring typically from late March to late April.
First generation adults are most abundant in June with the adult population peaking again in August or September. The spittlebugs will prosper as long as the disguise works, even if the snakes get the blame
by Les Harrison
Posted: October 5, 2017
Category: Natural Resources, Wildlife
Quick facts about spittlebugs
Spittlebugs are common in Minnesota gardens. Of the 54 spittlebug species known in Minnesota, the most common is the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius).
Spittlebugs are known for the frothy spittle mass they produce while feeding on plants.
- They feed on a variety of plants like, ornamental grasses, roses, chrysanthemums, clover, strawberries, herbs and many other garden plants.
- Spittlebug nymphs pierce the plant stems and suck plant juices.
- In most cases, especially on annuals and perennials, spittlebug feeding is not damaging to plants.
- If too many spittlebugs are present, feeding can cause leaves to lose their shape.
- In case of strawberries the berries may be smaller.
Spittlebug nymph on feverfew Immature spittlebug
How to identify spittlebugs
The presence of ‘spittle’ is an easy way to identify spittlebugs. These spittle masses can be up to 3/4 inch in size.
The nymphs are inside the spittle masses.
- They have soft, elongated bodies up to 1/4 inch in length.
- They change from orange to yellow to green as they grow.
- Nymphs have large red eyes on the sides of their heads.
Adult meadow spittlebugs are ¼ inch long but are not usually seen.
- They start out green and then turn brown or grey.
- Adult spittlebugs, also called froghoppers, have enlarged hind legs for jumping.
- They are similar to leafhoppers but are fatter.
Spittlebugs eggs can live through the winter in leaf litter.
Nymphs come out in late April or early May and start feeding at the base of the plants. They keep moving up, to look for tender leaves and flowers.
Nymphs pump bubbles into fluid that is secreted as a foamy substance during feeding. This frothy mass protects spittlebugs from enemies and from drying out.
The nymphs mature in five to eight weeks. As adults they move to nearby grassy areas, pastures or areas with broadleaf weeds.
The females return in September and October and lay clusters of eggs in plant debris or in leaves and stems. There is only one generation per year.
How to protect your plants from spittlebugs
In late April or early May, check every 2 weeks for spittlebug foam and nymphs at the base of the plants. As the plants grow, look for them on the underside of young leaves.
Managing spittlebugs is unnecessary:
- They are found in very small numbers
- They are seen on the plants for a very short time
- They cause very little damage
To get rid of spittlebugs:
- Remove weeds near your gardens to remove one of their food sources.
- Physically remove them by hand.
- Spray them with a strong blast of water to dislodge nymphs from the plants.
- Pesticides are not effective against spittlebugs as the nymphs are protected inside their spittle masses from any pesticide sprays.
Jeffrey Hahn, Extension entomologist and Suzanne Wold-Burkness, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
Reviewed in 2018
It was seeing the foam nests that prompted Dr. Matthews to study the insects. “It got me wondering exactly how would a spittlebug be able to breathe if it was submerged” in a mass of bubbles,” he said. One possibility was that it drew oxygen from the bubbles, like a diving insect. But that didn’t turn out to be the case, except in extreme situations, as he reported in The Journal of Experimental Biology.
Dr. Matthews and two students, Kephra I.S. Beckett and Anne B. Robertson, captured easily found spittlebugs in areas around the university and took them back to the lab. The spittlebugs showed no signs of distress in captivity and continued to go about their usual business, sucking watery sap out of the plants and producing an incredible amount of urine, 150 to 280 times their own body weight every day. For a 150-pound human that would be about 2,700 gallons a day.
They could watch the bugs, observe them under a microscope and record their oxygen use and production of carbon dioxide. Insects don’t have lungs. They breathe through tiny tunnels from exterior holes called spiracles that allow the air to flow through tunnels into their bodies. The spiracles are gathered in a groove that runs to the tip of the abdomen.
Under a microscope, the researchers could see and record the spittlebugs breaking the surface of the foam with the tip of their abdomens, apparently using it like a snorkel. When the insects were doing this snorkeling, carbon dioxide increased in the container they were placed in. That meant they were breathing. The researchers also measured oxygen in the foam itself. Same result.
When the spittlebugs were scared, they retreated deeper into the safety of the foam and stopped breathing. “When you startle them they pull their abdomen into the foam,” Dr. Matthews said, “and you can see that the rate of carbon dioxide drops to zero, because obviously they’re now hiding within the foam and the gas exchange has stopped with the atmosphere.”
Adult and juvenile spittle bugs on a casuarina
Spittle bugs are interesting insects that produce a white frothy substance on stems and leaves which looks just like spittle. Hidden underneath that froth is the juvenile busily sucking out sap from the plant. The froth serves to protect the juvenile from adverse weather conditions and predator attack.
Adult spittle bugs are about 1cm long and don’t produce the froth. They are called froghoppers and are incredibly strong jumpers which helps them avoid predation.
Even though spittle bugs suck sap from plants they rarely cause any damage and aren’t regarded as problem pests. Usually they only occur in small numbers so again plants are not significantly impacted.
Plants Attacked by Spittle Bugs
Spittle bugs can be found on a broad range of garden plants but are more commonly seen on natives including wattles, gum trees and casuarinas.
How to Control Spittle Bugs Organically
If a large number appear on a plant or you just don’t like the look of the spittle then you can:
- use the hose to wash the froth and spittle bugs off, or
- prune off the affected stems and leaves which will take the spittle bugs away as well.
Spittle bugs on a wattle
Spittle bugs on a gum tree