Your Christmas tree may bring joy—and insects

In late November, the North Carolina Forest Service warned Christmas tree buyers in my home state to look out for the spotted lanternfly. This voracious insect—indigenous to various Asian countries—has migrated stateside, and, as the service noted, was recently seen in neighboring Virginia, a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the Tar Heel state border. According to The News & Observer of Raleigh, it’s a triple-threat pest that can decimate grapevines and agricultural products at an astonishing clip; literally suck the life out of multiple plant species; and infest homes and other buildings. I didn’t pay much attention to those warnings until an article from the U.S. Department of Agriculture landed on my desk this week, telling us to beware of those “talented hitchhikers” that attach themselves to Christmas trees and ornamental plants used in landscaping. If you believe the Christmas ditty, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But according to the USDA, that holiday tree—whether you prefer a 8-foot giant or a “Charlie Brown Christmas” lookalike—can bring unwanted guests into your abode. These reports made me think twice about getting the usual Frasier fir or ornamental holly to deck my halls. You can avoid unwittingly giving pests a ride by examining trees for visible eggs, holes, or signs of insect life—and not crossing state borders or long distances for the right tree. And though such warnings aren’t anything new (the spotted lanternfly was detected on U.S. soil more than five years ago), it feels very on message for 2021 that the Christmas tree can be an agent of agricultural destruction. I will settle for an edible yule log. —Cynthia R. Greenlee

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