Public Works and Environmental Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our administrative offices are open 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Mon - Fri

703-324-1770
TTY 711

12055 Government Center Parkway
Suite 518, Fairfax, Va 22035

Brian Keightley,
Division Director, Urban Forest Management

Spotted Lanternfly

About Spotted Lanternfly

Origin

Adult Spotted Lanternfly
Adult Spotted Lanternfly. Photo credit: Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept of Agriculture, bugwood.org

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) or SLF is an insect that is native to China, India, and Vietnam. In its native land where it cohabits with its predators, parasites, and pathogens it is not a problem insect. However, as with many other insects arriving to the United States from other parts of the world and finding no established natural enemies here, it has become very invasive.

Biology

The nymph and adult stages of SLF have piercing-sucking mouth parts that suck sap from the stems and twigs of more than 70 types of plants including hardwood trees, landscape vegetation, and crops such as apples, grapes, and hops. In large numbers they can damage and weaken plants, spoil crops, and make a big mess. In agricultural settings, SLF has been particularly damaging to vineyards. In urban areas, it has damaged landscape plants and become a real nuisance. The feeding causes oozing sap, wilting, leaf curling, and dieback. Like aphids, the SLF secretes undigested plant sugars that pass through it, called honeydew. This drops onto anything beneath drawing flies, bees, wasps, and ants that feed on it. Black sooty mold grows on the honeydew.

How SLF Moves Around

SLF has spread rapidly in the northeastern United States. It is a planthopper whose nymph and adult stages are excellent jumpers. Adults also use their two pairs of colorful wings when they jump, sometimes gliding long distances on a good wind. Another way it spreads is by “hitchhiking” a ride on vehicles, outdoor furniture, tools, firewood, nursery stock, and any other objects moved by human activity. The female spotted lanternfly lays her inconspicuous egg masses on objects that if undetected, can then be transported anywhere. Nymphs and adults will land on humans and objects and be moved to new locations as well.

Distribution

First detected in 2014 in Pennsylvania, SLF has since spread to Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. As of January 2022, SLF had not been found in Fairfax County. The closest established populations in Virginia are in neighboring Prince William and Clarke Counties, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

Introduction, Native Range, and Current US Range | New York State Integrated Pest Management (cornell.edu)

What You Can Do

About Tree-of-Heaven

Preferred Host

Tree of Heaven
Photo credit: Chuck Bargeron, bugwood.org

The spotted lanternfly’s most preferred host is its native host tree from East Asia, the tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Here in Fairfax County, tree-of-heaven is an unwelcome invasive tree that does not support our native insects and competes with our native vegetation. SLF typically finds tree-of-heaven first then spreads to other plant species. Removal of tree-of-heaven from County-owned property is already underway to eliminate a nuisance tree and to slow the spread of SLF. A new method of control is currently being developed by Virginia Tech and will be tested here in Fairfax in the spring of 2022. The application of a native fungus will be tested to see how well it will control well-established clumps of tree-of-heaven. If successful, it may prove to be a better control method than those currently available. We are also keeping abreast of other biological controls for SLF such as parasites or fungi that may be approved for use in the future.

Download the Tree of Heaven Brochure

Tree-of-Heaven Identification

Leaf, bark, branch structure, twig with pith, fruit (samara)Tree-of-heaven has several unique features that distinguish it from similar looking native trees, such as the shape and underside of its leaves, its odor, and its seeds. Please see this visual guide to tree-of-heaven identification, Tree Identification – Virginia Tech, or this video explanation from Penn State, [Tree-of-heaven: Accurate Identification]. As with insect identification, plant identification can be challenging for beginners. Mobile phone apps such as iNaturalist are free to use and can be helpful.

Download the Tree of Heaven Brochure

Benefit of Tree-of-Heaven Removal

Remove tree-of-heaven from your property to reduce the impact of SLF. This may not prevent SLF from infesting your property, but it does take away a preferred food source. This is especially important near patios, decks, playgrounds, vehicles, and high value plants where honeydew can buildup on surfaces under the tree. Honeydew is harmless to people, but its sweetness attracts ants, flies, bees, and wasps. If the sticky buildup is not removed, it may begin to develop a sooty mold which can block sunlight from plants and stain surfaces. These are a major nuisance to homeowners and can diminish the enjoyment of being outdoors

Tree-of-Heaven Removal Methods

Cutting the stem and leaving its roots does not permanently eliminate tree-of-heaven. A cut stump will be stimulated to grow new sprouts near it. Each of those would then need to be cut until the roots eventually die. Eliminating tree-of-heaven completely requires physically removing the entire plant including its roots. Pulling or digging out the roots is only practical with young saplings. Larger trees and stump resprouts require the use of herbicides for complete control. Please see the Virginia Department of Forestry Control and Utilization of Tree-of-heaven publication for more information.

Report Tree-of-Heaven

Urban Forest Management Division is looking for tree-of-heaven on County property. If you find tree-of-heaven on County property, please report your observation using the EddMapS mobile app or EddMapS website.

View the Tree of Heaven Reporting Handout.

FAQs

I think I just saw something that looks like spotted lanternfly. What should I do?

Take a picture and report it! Report your findings on the mobile app iNaturalist. You can also send an email to ReportSLF@fairfaxcounty.gov. Please provide photos and an address with your report.

Will SLF kill my plants and trees?

SLF will not harm most trees and yard plants. However, expect SLF to become a general nuisance because of the honeydew it excretes, which may encourage the growth of sooty mold and attract stinging insects. Additionally, they do not sting, bite, or cause harm to pets. Although if dogs and cats eat enough of them, they may vomit.

I have tree-of-heaven in my yard. How do I get rid of it?

Tree-of-heaven cannot be simply cut down or mowed over as it will resprout heavily and spread. Effective management of tree-of-heaven requires removal of its root system or use of herbicide. Please refer to the Virginia Department of Forestry publication Control and Utilization of Tree-of-heaven for more information.

There is tree-of-heaven on County property near my home what can I do?

Please report tree-of-heaven through the EddMapS mobile app or EddMapS website.

What is the county doing about SLF?

Forest Pest staff are monitoring SLF Countywide in conjunction with the USDA APHIS Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). High transit corridors such as rail lines, major highways, and rest stops are being checked. Finding it early will provide the best chance to control it.

For more information about tree pests and tree care, call the urban forester of the day at 703-324-1770 | TTY 711 or contact the Forest Pest Branch by email.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant