Spotted lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly is a new insect pest in the West that sucks the sap from stems and new growth of ornamental trees, fruit trees, including apples and grapes.

The United States has had all types of migrants since the first European settlements. Dandelions and angle worms were introduced, as well as many invasive and noxious weeds and insect pests.

In the 21st century, the world is truly a global economy, so our migrants have changed to insect pests hidden in shipments of goods from other parts of the world. We have not yet developed sure means of controlling these pests.

WSU Master Gardener Bonnie Orr

Bonnie Orr, WSU Master Gardener

In the last 20 years, gardeners have seen the eruption of the spotted wing drosophila, a fruit fly that damages ripening fruit, and the brown maromated stinkbug that eats nearly anything organic and has become a scourge on the East Coast.

The spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, is a new pest that we hope we can control in the West before its population explodes. It is actually spread by using another inadvertent plant pest, the tree of heaven, as a host.

Did you ever read the book or see the classic movie, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?” The tree featured in the book is Ailanthus altissima, a tree brought to this country from China for its beauty. It was not known how aggressively this plant spreads. The tree is casually known as a “trash tree.”

People seldom plant it in their yards. It grows in uncultivated places, on disturbed land, near abandoned buildings and in cracks in sidewalks. One tree in a neighborhood can produce enough seeds and suckers to populate several square blocks.

The Douglas County Weed Task Force wants to have these unwanted and unloved trees eliminated from the landscape because that is the most effective means of preventing the spread of the spotted lantern fly, which like the tree, comes from China.

The insect pest uses the tree of heaven as a host. The lanternfly sucks the sap from stems and new growth of ornamental trees, fruit trees, including apples and grapes. It lays its eggs on the smooth bark of the tree of heaven. It is a remarkable looking insect that is brightly colored, but we do not want to see it in Chelan and Douglas counties.

Actually, the tree of heaven is a messy nuisance. The trees are often shrubby with fairly soft wood. The leaves and stems smell skunk-like. The tree drops thousands of seeds from its red and orange blossoms during the late summer and thousands of leaves in the fall.

When the tree is cut down, the roots immediately send out a sucker-sprout forest that most likely will require a targeted herbicide to control.

This summer, if every landowner cut out the rogue trees on their property before they set seed in late summer, we would be on the road to protecting our region from the spotted lanternfly.

A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured.