Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) is a beautiful native wildflower and a popular perennial garden plant.  Many different cultivars are available for gardeners.  While these flowering plants are hardy and do well in gardens, providing a reliable showy display of color by mid summer, there are a few pest and disease problems that can affect them. Two of these, one a disease and one an insect, can cause similar symptoms to appear during mid summer.  If the upper surfaces of the leaves develop small to large, angular shaped brown or purple lesions, the problem could be Rudbeckia downy mildew or Rudbeckia psyllid.

If the problem is downy mildew caused by the water mold pathogen Plasmopara halstedii, the lesions will tend to be more brown but can have a purplish color too.

To confirm downy mildew, flip the leaf over and look for sporulation of the pathogen on the lower leaf surface.   Whitish sporulation will be visible between the veins directly below the lesions that are present on the upper leaf surface, especially during or following wet or humid weather.


Rudbeckia downy mildew sporulation. Photo by Joan Allen, UConn.

These spores can be rain splashed or wind-borne to new infection sites.  A film of water must be present on the leaf for the spores to germinate so keeping the leaves as dry as possible will help minimize disease.  This can be accomplished in a couple of ways.  First, avoid the use of overhead irrigation if possible.  If that’s your preferred method of watering, the best timing is afternoon for this problem. Studies have shown that the greatest spore germination activity for this pathogen occurs during the morning.   Also, space plants to allow for good air circulation that will hasten drying after a rain or dew formation.

Other control practices include sanitation and, if necessary, the use of fungicides.  Sanitation involves the thorough removal of plant debris from infected plants because that’s where the pathogen will be planning to overwinter.  If there is a summer with frequent periods of wet weather favorable for disease, and you’ve had a previous problem with downy mildew, protective/preventive fungicides may be a good choice.  There are a variety of products available including biological controls.  Biological control products may have active ingredients such as the bacteria Bacillus subtilis or Streptomyces lydicus.  Other options include potassium bicarbonate and copper products.  Always look for the plant type and downy mildews on the product label and apply as directed.

The Rudbeckia psyllid (Bactericera antennata) has a nymph stage whose feeding on the undersides of the leaves causes striking purple lesions on the leaf as well as purple discoloration of the veins, most notable on the lower leaf surfaces.  The nymph is also quite striking in appearance when viewed with magnification as it is multi-colored and fringed with hairs.

The adult psyllid is a very tiny insect that holds its wings over its back like a cicada.  References say either that the adult overwinters in protected spots like crevices or leaf litter or that the overwintering stage is not yet confirmed.  In a Michigan report of this insect on hibiscus, it stated that there was probably one generation per year so that would likely be similar here in Connecticut.  There is a tiny wasp that parasitizes the nymph stage and this is what happened when you find a nymph that looks like this:


Parasitized nymph by Joan Allen, UConn.

Products including Neem, insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils will control this pest.  Thorough coverage is important for success.  These products are kinder to beneficial insects that will eat or parasitize the psyllids.  Other reported host plants besides Rudbeckia are Echinacea and Hibiscus.

I hope your Rudbeckias are looking great and have no problems, but if they have a bit of discoloration on the leaves, look for evidence of these two culprits on the lower leaf surfaces.

Joan Allen




With the 2016 Summer Olympics comes the quest for gold. We may not all be athletes (at least of Olympian stature) but that does not mean we cannot enjoy the excitement and warmth of gold right in our own yards. Gold-leaved plants are in a category all by themselves. They are able to make our gardens shine especially in partially shaded areas where that touch of gold just illuminates a dark corner or monotonous stretch of green.

When considering that point of light to add to your gardens, keep in mind that gold coloration can be anywhere in the range from chartreuse to a deep gold. If you are searching for a certain hue, check out the plant at local nurseries before purchasing it and adding it to one of your gardens. While a hedge of the same golden leaved plant can be quite effective in some landscapes, keep in mind that gold foliaged plants are most useful as a focal point in the garden. Overuse may lessen their impact and even be a bit distracting.

While I see it time and time again, I really do not like any of the gold shades combined with pink but I think they look striking combined with purple or blue or even with fiery shades of orange and red. I also do not like golds with pure whites but with more vanilla colored blossoms like aruncus or filipendulas or white Japanese burnet (sanguisorba) or even those vanilla ‘white’ marigolds.

Azalea, vinca and cypress

Personally I find the combination of the light pink azalea and gold thread cypress not that appealing.

As a general rule of thumb, many plants with bright yellow or gold foliage have a tendency to fade to a more green color when exposed to hot, mid-day to late day sun. When planting these gold-foliaged selections in an all-day sunny site, look for varieties that claim they do not scorch.

Some of UConn’s Ornamental Horticulture Professors weighed in on their favorite gold-leaved plants. Dr. Jessica Lubell votes for Sumac ‘Tiger Eyes’ (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes). This 6 foot tall shrub has pinnate compound leaves that start out as chartreuse in the spring then mature to a clear yellow. ‘Tiger Eyes’ has notable fall foliage coloration as well adding in scarlet and orange tones. The plants has purplish fuzzy stems that contrast nicely with the lacy yellow foliage. Plant in full sun for best color and be aware that although slowly, it does spread by suckers.

rhus typina tiger eyes

Rhus typina ‘Tiger Eyes’ from

A favorite of Dr. Julia Kuzovkina is the golden pussy willow (Salix caprea), ‘Ogon’. The word ‘ogon’ means yellow or gold in Japanese so you can guess that this plant is from Asia. This plant grows as a small tree or large shrub. Soft catkins are followed by bright yellowish gold leaves that do become greener in color as the season progresses. It tolerates average to moist soils and should be cut back regularly to stimulate new shoots which have the best yellow color.

Gold Pussy Willow Broken Arrow

Golden Pussy Willow. Photo by

Another plant, also called ‘Ogon’, rates high with Dr. Mark Brand. His choice for a gold accent in your garden is a spirea (Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’). This compact shrub grows about 3 to 5 feet high and wide. If it becomes a bit sprawly, cut it down to about 6 inches in early spring and it will grow back more compact. In the spring it is covered with small white blossoms attractive to butterflies. The foliage remains attractive into the fall and it tolerates full sun.

Ogon spirea

‘Ogon’ spirea. Photo from

Two other species of shrubs that are better planted in a part shaded area to retain their attractive golden foliage are ‘Golden Glow’ dogwood (Cornus hesseyii) and ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Both are relatively small shrubs being 4 foot high and wide or less and both have white flowers. The dogwood has red twigs which also add some winter interest to the garden.

When it comes to listing my favorite golden leaved plant, I am torn between the many wonderful cultivars of coleus with leaves ranging from clear gold to lemon yellow to chartreuse to the soft, billowy, waterfall blades of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra).

Coleus, of course, are annuals in our climate but they can be used so effectively in containers and in garden beds. I like ‘Spiced Curry’ with its striking gold and maroon leaves and chartreuse ‘Wasabi’ the best but many local garden centers have other intriguing cultivars as well.

Japanese forest grass is just perfect for a gold flowing plant to put a spotlight in shaded areas. It does best in at least part shade and gets about one and a half feet tall and wide. Clumps spread very slowly and it is quite drought tolerant when established.

Blk Mondo Grass & Hakone grass Elm Bank

Japanese forest grass and black mondo grass. Photo by DMP

There are so many more golden foliage plants out there from trees to shrubs, vines to groundcovers, and annuals to perennials. Check out ‘Sweet Kate’ spiderwort, caryopteris ‘Sunshine Blue’ and the chartreuse sweet potato vine. There are too many gold leaved hostas to name but look for the 2016 hosta of the year, ‘Curly Fries’ at your local garden center. Think about where that bright spot might just liven up a dull planting and consider how gold can be a winning strategy in your garden. And feel free to share your favorite gold leaved plant with us.

curly fries 2016 hosta of year Walters Gardens

‘Curly Fries’ 2016 Hosta of the Year. Photo from Walters Gardens

Dawn P.


Cracks in tomatoes, black rotten spots on the bottom of tomato fruit, and a hard yellow or white area on the inside walls of ripe tomatoes are all physiological problems, not caused by insects or disease.  It is a sad sight for gardeners investing so much time and energy to see the actual fruits of their labor turn into less than perfect tomatoes.


cracking of tomato, joey Williamson HGIC,

Cracked Tomato

Let’s start with why tomatoes crack. Higher moisture levels after a dry period, such as lots of rain after a time of drought, will cause the inside cells to swell and grow faster than the outside skin will grow, resulting in splitting of the skin. To prevent cracking, keep soil evenly moist by watering, and use a mulch to prevent evaporation and keep soil cooler. Cracked tomatoes are still very edible, but not so pretty. Sometimes the cracks are deep, allowing rot to happen inside the meat of the fruit. Plan to use split tomatoes before rotting happen.

Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes, J.Allen Photo

Blossom End Rot, photo by Joan Allen.

Blossom end rot is expressed by a black, sunken area on the bottom, the blossom end, of the tomato. It is caused by a lack of calcium reaching the fruit. The soil could be lacking calcium which can only be determined by having a soil test done for nutrient levels. UConn does a basic soil test for $12.00 at New England is not usually lacking calcium in its soil, it is more likely the cause of blossom end rot is an interruption in the delivery of calcium from the soil to the fruit via water uptake. This is caused by irregular watering, letting the soil dry out, then watering or having a big rain event. Occasionally, high levels of potassium or magnesium fertilizers will compete with calcium uptake by the plants. Only use a balanced fertilizer to avoid an excess of individual nutrients and provide even water levels to the soil to avoid blossom end rot. Portions of the tomato not rotted are also still edible if you cut away the bad part.


Yellow Shoulders,

Yellow shoulders disorder occurs on the top part of the tomato when areas never turn red, but stay yellow. The flesh underneath can be tough and corky. It can occur only on the top portion or can occur as a grey or white wall just under the skin around the whole fruit.This problem is caused by a number of different circumstances or combinations of them. We do know it is a problem at the cellular level that happens very early as the fruit is forming.  Cells in the area are smaller and not aligned normally, and the green chlorophyll areas do not develop red pigment. Causes are thought to be high temperatures over 90 degrees F at time of fruit formation, and possible pH levels over 6.7, and potassium, magnesium and calcium competition among each other. Again, a balanced fertilizer is needed.

tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.

Tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.


The take away message for all of these physiological problems are to have an adequate soil fertility and soil pH without over fertilizing, and have even soil moisture. Hope for summer temperatures to stay at or below 90 degrees F and your harvest baskets will be full of beautiful, delicious tomatoes.

-Carol Quish



 I love insects. They are amazing.”  Andrea Arnold  

The UConn Bug Week programs were held over the last week of July this year and for our particular Bug Week event on July 30, we started early on in the season acquainting ourselves with the world of insects and searching high and low for specimens we could find and then bring home with us to raise. While rearing insects, you learn a lot about what they do, what they eat, how they behave and what their life cycles are.

Some of the fabulous volunteers -Bug Week 2016 Amy Estabrook photo

Some of our Master Gardener Volunteers- Amy Estabrook photo

We had several bug hunts from early June on and went to specific areas searching for specific insects and any surprises that might turn up. Volunteers from the Master Gardener program spent two months looking for and raising insects in the hope that they would be available as live specimens for our event on July 30. Of course, many pupated and that was that. But we still had a lot of wonderful specimens to show all the people that attended our program. We had display boards that our volunteers made for their particular insects, and with the live specimens, people got to see insects up close and personal.

Bug Week 2016 Suzi Zitser photo of Debbi Wright's display board

Debbi Wright’s fabulous display for the Virginia Creeper sphinx moth- Suzi Zitser photo

Our event was held at the Tolland County Agricultural Center, home to the Tolland County UConn Extension Office. There are over 35 acres of woodland, wetland and open environments, plus pollinator and butterfly- friendly plantings all over the property, so we were able to go outdoors and take advantage of all the gardens and wood lines to search for insects.

bugweek 2016 earl parent photo

Volunteers show visitors our insects. Photo by Earl Parent

Among the insects we had for specimens and displays caterpillars of the clear dagger moth, mottled prominent, Virginia creeper sphinx, milkweed tussock moth, Monarch butterfly, stink bugs of all kinds, Imperial moth caterpillars (just hatching that day), tobacco hornworms on their favorite tomato host, beetles, John Suhr’s moth and butterfly collection plus the UConn Natural History Museum brought some specimens from their fabulous collection. Other specimens included red-lined panapoda caterpillars and orange-striped oak worm caterpillars. We also had two walking sticks which were found in early June when they were the size of a thumbnail.

walking stick and friend bug week 2016 Earl Parent photo

One of our walking sticks out for a walk- Earl Parent photo

AMy Estabrook photo of Leslie and friends and a walking stick Amy Estabrook photo

Amy Estabrook took this photo of Leslie showing our walking stick to two small guests

We had three bug walks as well, and found interesting insects of all kinds- a Buffalo treehopper, leaf-footed bug nymph, silver-spotted skipper caterpillar, an apple maggot fly, a salt marsh tiger moth and a chickweed geometer moth just to name just a few. Many butterflies were also floating by  as we did our walks and we ended up seeing them again  when we got to the butterfly garden.

Bug Hunt with Jean Laughman

Jean Laughman finds some good insects on her beating sheet


The TAC Center has one of the best butterfly gardens going, and has been well maintained by Tina Forsberg and Jean Laughman. It has a spicebush in the center of one side and on it we found 6 spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, one of which was only a couple of days old. Hummingbird moths, swallowtail, crescent, skipper and, brush foot butterflies were there, and we even found a tiger swallowtail egg on a small black cherry.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth Pamm Cooper photo

Butterfly garden walk with Tina Forsberg

looking for bugs in the butterfly garden

saltmarsh tiger moth Estigmene acrea found resting in the butterfly garden

Salt Marsh Tiger moth found in the butterfly garden- Pamm Cooper photo

Thanks are in order for all our Master Gardeners and Master Gardener interns for a job well done. Without your efforts, this would not have been a success, nor as interesting an event as it was. Also, thank you Joan Allen, for your talk on vegetable insect pests, and Dave Colbert for bringing terrific specimens from the UConn Museum of Natural History.

Euthochtha galeator leaf footed bug nymph 7-30-16 Bug Week hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Leaf- footed bug nymph found on a bug walk- Pamm Cooper photo


After all our hard work raising insects and running around finding host plant material to feed them, and after many long insect hunts in 90 degree weather, I guess we were all happy, in a way, to see Bug Week draw to a close. My dining room table is no longer a laboratory and that is how it should be. And yet, I do miss the pitter-patter of tiny little feet…


Pamm Cooper







Hibiscus in bloom

Hibiscus ‘Luna Pink Swirl’

Many of the perennials in our flower beds provide us beautiful groupings of color and beauty; from the sunny tulips in the early spring to the irises that maintain their showy blooms for weeks in June to the phlox and hydrangea with their masses of blooms. But there are few that can compare with the oversized outrageousness of the blooms of the Hibiscus laevis, also known as the halberd-leaf rosemallow.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Hibiscus ‘Disco Belle’

Hibiscus are the genus of plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. Other plants that are in this grouping may be familiar to you as ornamental species such as the China Rose (Hibiscus rose-sinensis), a tropical plant that is generally grown in containers in this zone, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), a plant that is grown as a large shrub or small tree, depending on the manner in which it is pruned, or Sterculia foetida, also known as the wild almond tree, whose name is derived from Sterculius, the Roman god of manure. The petioles of this plant exude a foul smell although the roasted seeds are edible. Makes you wonder who the first person was that thought “Yes, it stinks, but I’ll bet the seeds are yummy”.

Other more well-known edible members of the mallow family include okra (notice the similarity to the hibiscus flower buds), kola nut, and cacao. The baobabs have both fruit and leaves that are edible. A deep crimson herbal tea can be made from the sepals of the Hibiscus sabdariffa which contains vitamin c and minerals.



Also in this family but in the genus Malva is the Common Mallow, Malva neglecta, whose edible seeds are high in protein and fat. It is sometimes considered an invasive weed although it does not appear on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) current listing. I like it for its translucent delicate light pink to almost white flowers and for its foliage which has a crinkly edge.

Common mallow

Common Mallow

Great golden digger wasp on mallow

Great Golden Digger Wasp on mallow

But back to the hibiscus that grow along a sunny fence in our yard. 20 years ago I had 4 different varieties that each produced a different color flower/throat combination in shades from white to deep red. Unfortunately only two of those original plants remain to produce the 7-8” blooms that are so stunning. To say that they are the size of a dinner plate is barely an exaggeration.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Each apical bloom unfurls its showy magnificence from a very interesting-looking bud (it almost looks like it has a decorative cage around it) for only a day and then they collapse. There are many buds in each grouping though so the flowers appear to be non-stop. I do my best to remove the spent blooms so that the plant will keep producing until September. If you don’t do this then it will put its energy into the development of large seed pods.

Buds close up

Bud close-up

I found a Grape colaspis, Colaspis brunnea, feeding on the foliage. Hibiscus is not listed as a usual host plant for this fellow but okra (which we learned is in the Mallow family) is an alternate host. I felt that it had done enough damage so I am sorry to say that it wasn’t around for very long after this video was shot.


Feeding damage

The larvae of the hibiscus sawfly (Atomacera decepta) are a bigger pest as they will generally be present in larger numbers and can defoliate an entire plant. Control methods should be limited to non-systemics and only applied when the flowers are not in bloom. Shown below are a fruit fly and a tumbling flower beetle that were also spotted on the hibiscus.

The foliage and some of the more tender stalks of the hibiscus will die back with a heavy frost. I usually prune back any of the older, woody stems in the early spring before any new growth appears. You may think that the plant did not survive the winter as it is sometimes late May before you will begin to see the new growth but it will quickly make up for lost time and will soon provide you with an abundance of beautiful ephemeral blooms!

Susan Pelton


Leafcutter bees, members of the genus Megachile, have an interesting life history.  You may have seen their plant damage and wondered who did it because they are seldom caught in the act.  Even though the nearly circular holes left on the edges of leaves are pretty good-sized at nearly a half inch across in some cases, it only takes the female bee a matter of seconds (one report says about 10) to chew it out.  Commonly used plants include rose, lilac, Virginia creeper, azalea, redbud, ash and others.  Leaves that aren’t too thick or waxy are preferred.


Redbud leaf with edge pieces removed by a leafcutter bee. J. Allen, UConn

These solitary bees are not eating the leaf segments they remove, they are using them for building their nests. Nests are created in long narrow cavities such as hollow stems or crevices.  As solitary bees, the female does all the work of nest building, foraging for food and egg-laying.  While each queen will build and provision her own nest, some species will be found creating numerous nests near each other.  A female may even enter the wrong nest by mistake but she will exit and not work on it or lay an egg there.


Leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.) Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Leafcutter bees vary somewhat in size but in general are similar in size to a honeybee. They are mostly black on the back or top and fuzzy golden to orange on the lower side of the abdomen.  Adults forage for both nectar and pollen and blend them in combination with saliva to form a ‘bee loaf’ for each individual cell.  Formation of the complete bee loaf requires many trips between the nest and the flowers.  Once the loaf is completed, she lays a single egg on it.  Each cell is lined with leaf pieces and after the egg is laid, the cell is sealed with chewed leaves.  A completed nest, depending on species and nest size, may have six to twelve cells/eggs.

Nest building and egg laying occur during early to mid summer. References differ on how the new generation of bees overwinter.  Some say they overwinter as larvae while others say they mature into adults and then remain dormant within the cells until the following spring.  It may vary by species but in any case there is one generation per year.  Adults emerge in the spring once it is suitably warm.  They mate over the course of a couple of weeks and the males soon die.  Females die once they complete egg laying later in the summer.

Leaf cutting bees are fantastic pollinators.   This is because of the way they forage and carry the pollen.  Unlike honeybees, who moisten the pollen for carrying on their hind legs, leafcutter bees carry the pollen dry.  When they are visiting a flower, they are active, resulting in quite a bit of pollen adhering to their hairy abdomens.  Because it’s carried dry, it is easily and abundantly dislodged and distributed to subsequent flowers visited.  Early in the twentieth century, pollination of alfalfa, an important livestock food plant, was decreased due to a lack of pollinator habitat as agriculture and land clearing expanded and alfalfa seed shortages resulted.  The alfalfa leafcutter bee was introduced to the U.S. and pretty much saved the alfalfa seed industry.  It is still relied upon for this purpose today.

Because of their effective role as pollinators, it’s beneficial to encourage leafcutter bees. Another positive characteristic is that they are not aggressive and, while they have stingers, they are only used when the bees feel very threatened or confined.  The sting is also minor compared to most.  Nesting sites or ‘houses’ can be purchased or constructed from common materials to attract and maintain leafcutter bee populations to your yard or area.  A very simple nest unit can be made by drilling numerous ¼” holes (or about the diameter of a pencil) 6” deep into a block of wood.  Face the side with the holes to receive early morning sun.  One source recommends bringing the nest into an unheated shelter such as a garage or shed once cell construction is complete to protect the overwintering leafcutter bees from pests and predators.

There are many native leafcutter bees and they have the potential to be major contributors to pollination in gardens and on small farms. They don’t forage far from the nest for provisions or for leaf pieces (about 300 ft.) and that is why they are less effective on large expanses of crops.

J. Allen

As a child I remember there being this wonderful shrub in my neighbor’s yard at the end of our street. They lived in an old farm house that even had a brick oven. At the end of each branch were beautiful, waxy, orange, trumpet-shaped flowers that always seemed to draw a band of hummingbirds. Years later I discovered this plant was aptly named trumpet vine.

Trumpet vine close up

Tubular flowers of trumpet vine. Photo by dmp.

The plant in my neighbor’s yard was pruned into a shrub-form and as far as I could tell with proper pruning, it would stay that way. So I had the great idea to plant one on either end of my white picket fence in front of my house about 10 years ago. I thought that the flowers would look nice with the light peach siding on the house plus attract all those delightful hummingbirds. So I ordered two Campsis radicans from a nursery catalog and planted them.

The plants I received were thin young vines so I tied them up to stakes and as they grew I pruned the lower branches and trained them into standards. These stems on trumpet vines got woody quite fast so it did not take long for the plants to become self-supportive. For 3 or 4 years, the plants were delightful. They do start out late each spring and there is noticeable winter kill. This is likely because they are native to the warmer southeastern United States and it is not really problematic as a good late spring pruning keeps them in check. I cut back all the dead stems when new growth appears usually in late April or May and use the long, thin branches as row markers as I plant seeds in the vegetable garden.


Trumpet vine trained as standard. Photo by dmp.

Trumpet vines are vigorous and can easily reach 30 feet or more if left to their own devices. If grown as a vine it really needs a very strong support system as the woody vines are quite hefty. As far as soil goes, this plant is quite adaptive and I, personally, would not bother amending the soil to encourage even more rampant growth. The pinnately-compound foliage is attractive all summer and I had never noticed any pests until this year when my plant at the shady end of the fence was completely defoliated by gypsy moths. The one in the sun was not touched!

Trumpet vines are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds and the seeds, if formed, look like bean pods. This plant also serves as a larval food for the Plebeian sphinx moth which primarily has a more southern range but has been found in Connecticut.

About 2 or 3 years ago, the trumpet vine in the sun started revealing its true aggressive nature and it became obvious why other common names include hellvine and Devil’s shoestring. The plant was sending up suckers everywhere within now, a 20 foot radius. These aren’t just wimpy little shoots that you can pull up like raspberries but woody, deep-rooted ones that you know no matter how many of them you cut back, they will just keep on coming. If most of them were not popping up in a regularly mowed lawn area, they could turn a patch of ground into a thicket in just a couple of years I bet. This might be useful in areas in need of erosion control but not a front yard.


Trumpet vine sprouts all through the lawn area. Photo by dmp.



Close up of woody-stemmed trumpet vine shoot.

So a dilemma. Should I just continue to tend my standard trumpet vine appreciating its lovely orange flowers, keep mowing and cutting the suckers down and add it to my plants that I regret planting list, or think about control options? They say hindsight is 20-20 and if I could go back in time, I think I would have found something better behaved.

Dawn P.


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