To control spotted lanternfly, its host tree must be eliminated from landscape

The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is used as a host tree by the spotted lanternfly. The lanternfly sucks the sap from ornamental and fruit trees.

The U.S. 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 for which we have not yet developed sure means of controlling them.

In the last 20 years, gardeners have seen the eruption of the spotted wing drosophila, a fruit fly that damages ripening fruit; the brown marmorated stinkbug that eats nearly anything organic and has become a scourge on the East Coast; and the Asian Giant Hornet. Now there is a new pest that we hope we can control in the West before its population explodes.

The new pest, the spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, 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 the U.S. from China for its “beauty.” Nothing was known about 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, in 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 Washington Invasive Species Council wants to have these unwanted and unloved trees eliminated from the landscape because that is the most effective means of preventing the spread of this new insect pest, the spotted lantern fly, which like the tree, comes from China.

The spotted lanternfly uses the tree of heaven as a host. The lanternfly sucks the sap from stems and new growth of ornamental trees such as maple, oak, pine and willow and 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.

“While we know the trees are relatively widespread, we don’t know exactly where they are or how large the patches are,” said Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council. “We hope the public can help us better understand the distribution of tree-of-heaven as quickly as possible because of its relation to the spotted lanternfly.”

He is asking for help tracking tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). The purpose of gathering this information is to create a map of where the trees exist in Washington. So, when the insect pest arrives, it will be possible to put out traps to capture the insects before they become established.

There is an online reporting form at wwrld.us/3hYFxI8 in addition to a mobile phone application for Android and iOS devices.

If you are reporting a lot of them without the phone app, sending a list of coordinates and photos could work.

When reporting sightings, the public should include photographs that show enough detail for experts to identify the tree. A photo showing the leaf and leaflets is most helpful. The public also should include a description of the size of the stand of trees, such as whether there is a single tree or a group of trees that are the size of a motorcycle, a car, a school bus or multiple school buses.

This fall, if every landowner cut out the rogue trees on his property, we would be on the road to protecting our region from the spotted lanternfly.

If you would like assistance with managing your tree of heaven, contact the Chelan County Noxious Weed Control Board or Washington State University Master Gardener Program for assistance in developing a control plan for your tree of heaven. Both organizations can offer site specific recommendations for a tailored management plan that best fits the location and extent of the problem.

Contact the Chelan/Douglas Master Gardeners at chelanmastergardeners@gmail.com for additional information about controlling this pest tree.

A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit wwrld.us/cdmg or call (509) 667-6540.

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