Heading to Pennsylvania for your Christmas tree?
An invasive insect in southeastern Pennsylvania called the spotted lanternfly hasn’t been found in New Jersey yet but could travel here in egg cases on infected trees.
First found in 2014 in the U.S. in Berks County, Pennsylvania, it has since spread to nearby counties. It has the potential to greatly harm the grape, tree fruit, plant nursery and timber industries, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Pennsylvania has quarantined a variety of products, including Christmas trees, in 13 southeastern counties in a bid to control the infestation. Christmas trees can be shipped out of the quarantined counties, but only after being inspected by the state and given a clean bill of health.
“We just in the last two weeks expanded from six to 13 counties,” said state Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Fred Strathmeyer, who is a Christmas tree grower in a county north of the quarantine area. “We decided, with the USDA, we’re better served with a broader swipe of the brush.”
He said the pest has been found in the first six counties quarantined but not in the additional seven. But it has great potential to spread there.
Strathmeyer also said bigger growers who ship large numbers of trees out of state are mostly located north of the quarantine area.
Because last winter was so mild, the spotted lanternfly population was enormous this year, according to Penn State Extension.
“In many areas in early August, trees were completely covered with feeding nymphs,” said an extension update on the species dated Dec. 4.
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Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for the number of Christmas tree farms, at more than 1,400; and fourth in the number of Christmas trees cut each year, behind Oregon, North Carolina and Michigan, according to the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Inspectors are looking for the egg cases of the planthopper, which have a gray, mudlike covering that can dry and crack over time. Old egg masses appear as rows of 30-50 brownish, seedlike deposits in four to seven columns on the trunk, roughly an inch long.
The lanternflies also lay eggs on nearby smooth surfaces such as stone, outdoor furniture, vehicles and structures.
Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), itself an invasive Asian species, is the host species of the pest, the department said. Adults feed on tree of heaven starting in mid-July.
It recommends homeowners in quarantined counties destroy at least 90 percent of their tree of heaven and apply systemic insecticide to the rest.
Infected trees develop weeping wounds, according to the department.
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These wounds leave a grayish or black trail along the trunk. This sap will attract other insects to feed, notably wasps and ants.
There is limited information on pesticide options because it is a new pest to the region. Penn State Extension is conducting trials on products that are available to the homeowner, it said.
Strathmeyer said it is also important to recycle Christmas trees, rather than simply leaving them in a wooded area after use, because the recycling process will kill any larvae.
“If it goes through a chipper, we have found the chopping destroys the egg masses as well,” he said.
The quarantine expansion will draw more attention to the issue and alert more people to being part of the process, Strathmeyer said.
“Public awareness is going to be what gets rid of this thing,” he said.