The pesky spotted lanternfly isn’t likely to grinch up the holidays for anyone bringing a live or fresh-cut Christmas tree into their homes this winter.
“There’s pretty much no risk of that,” Phil Civello, at Misty Run Tree Farm in Annville, said Nov. 18. “It hasn’t been a problem … because the spotted lanternfly typically will not set up house on a Christmas tree. They don’t like Christmas trees.”
The spotted lanternfly is an invasive species from Asia that has the potential to devastate the U.S. economy with its ravenous appetite.
Lebanon County is one of 14 counties in a quarantine zone that affects how businesses can move equipment and products within and out of the zone, according to a statement issued in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. That means growers have to be careful if they’re shipping trees to an area not yet affected by the invasive pest.
William R. Nichols, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said last year the department doesn’t consider the Christmas tree issue to be a major concern.
Casey Clauser, a master gardener coordinator with the Penn State Extension in Lebanon County, said Nov. 18 that spotted lanternflies “aren’t interested in conifers,” which include the needle-bearing evergreens typically used as Christmas trees.
“It’s not a tree they’re looking to feed off of, so the odds of them laying eggs on them are much lower than on other trees,” Clauser said. “We’re not saying they won’t – they’ll lay eggs on anything, even cinder blocks. But we haven’t heard any reports of spotted lanternflies coming into people’s homes on Christmas trees.”
Civello said spotted lanternflies “love fruit trees,” and an apple orchard is a far more likely target for the pest than a grove of Christmas trees.
The colorful bug has no natural predators in the U.S. And, unchecked, the spotted lanternfly could ravage Pennsylvania’s grape, tree fruit, timber and nursery industries—collectively worth $18 billion to the state economy—state officials have said.
Penn State Extension educator Timothy Elkner said in 2018 that spotted lanternflies “lay their eggs on almost anything” but, even if some did get into a home, “they’re not going to do any damage. They’re not going to bite the dog, they’re not going to bite you. They’re not going to eat your houseplants. Worst-case scenario, they’re an annoyance.”
Gary Thomas, a member of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association, also said the lanternfly is “more of a hassle than a problem.”
Elkner said a fresh egg mass looks like a smear of wet putty, while an older mass looks more like dried, cracked mud. The lanternfly’s egg-laying season runs from late September to the first hard freeze.
A female lanternfly usually lays two masses per season, each holding 30 to 50 eggs. They usually hatch in May, Elkner said, although it’s possible they could hatch early inside a warm house.
Besides Lebanon, counties covered by the quarantine include Lancaster, Dauphin and Berks, as well as areas surrounding Philadelphia.
“It’s still kind of a new thing, but we haven’t had any issues with that,” Keith Wagner, at the Wagner Christmas Tree Farm in Lebanon, said Nov. 18. “I haven’t seen any on any of our Christmas trees … and it seems to me that it hasn’t really affected sales. Tree-tagging has been brisk.”
Clauser said anyone who’s concerned about a possible infestation should simply examine the tree for egg masses.
“If they see them, which is unlikely, they can just scrape them off,” he said. “As much as the spotted lanternfly is an annoying pest, it’s not a threat to humans. If you were to get one into your house, you can easily dispose of it.”