NORTH ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — While the national tree contest dominated much of the conversation during the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association summer meeting, the spotted lanternfly was a major topic as well.
The invasive insect is a serious concern for the wine and orchard industries, and while it doesn’t feed on Christmas trees, growers are monitoring the situation. It’s possible for the lanternfly to deposit egg masses on the bark of a Christmas tree, creating transportation concerns.
Although several growers at the meeting said it’s unlikely the lanternfly will deposit eggs on a Christmas tree since it doesn’t feed on them, the insect was still the focus of several sessions during the two-day meeting.
Dr. Julie Urban, an associate research professor at Penn State University, told growers there may be several ways to attack the spread of the lanternfly. The use of pesticides during late season movement may be a way to knock out large numbers of the insect, she said, by targeting “hot trees” that are preferred feeding venues, and utilizing natural pathogens to impact the lanternfly at multiple life stages.
Research is ongoing regarding all the treatment methods, Urban said, but she believes there may be another plan of attack that’s more effective.
“The females have organs that contain bacteria, which are transferred to the egg,” Urban said. “If we can find a way to interrupt that transfer, that has to be a vulnerability.”
Heather Leach, an Extension agent with Penn State, said the lanternfly is creating headaches for Christmas tree growers due to regulatory issues and transportation of trees out of the quarantine area.
Although the lanternfly doesn’t feed on the species grown by the Christmas tree industry, just its presence is an impact, she said.
Leach believes it’s possible for the lanternfly to follow the trend of other invasive insects over the years.
“We see explosive populations when an invasive comes here, and over time we come up with research and find something that reduces them,” she said. “An example is the use of fungal pathogens with gypsy moths.”
Still, the lanternfly offers a unique challenge since there is more than one specific host, unlike the emerald ash borer which feeds exclusively on ash trees.
Leach said chemical controls for the lanternfly are effective, but also expensive and labor intensive.
But she’s optimistic that Urban’s research will yield a long-term biological solution.
“It has to be a solution that’s specific to this group of insects. It could be a matter of disrupting how they feed, or the development of their eggs, that turns out to be the key to stopping this,” Leach said. “We need to do a lot more research on biological control, but I’m optimistic.”