Tree of Heaven could devastate Okanagan agriculture

Tree of Heaven faces axe

Three species of trees are facing the axe in the Central Okanagan if the regional district declares them invasive.

The RDCO board is being asked to follow the lead of the City of Kelowna and list the Tree of Heaven, Siberian Elm and Russian Olive trees as invasive. That would allow the regional district to order the removal of them from private property.

The Tree of Heaven, in particular, is particularly dangerous to the region, according to a staff report prepared for the board. It is the preferred host of the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that has not yet arrived in B.C.

“If the spotted lanternfly finds its way to BC, and the preferred host, the Tree of Heaven, is found in these important agricultural areas, the likelihood of this insect establishing itself here increases tremendously,” said the board report.

The lanternfly would devastate local agriculture.

“Vineyards in Pennsylvania have experienced 45% – 100% loss of wine grape crops, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, since the initial detection of spotted lanternfly in 2014,” the report says.

The tree’s vegetative shoots can grow through asphalt roads, sidewalks, concrete foundations and sewer systems. It can reach 30 metres in height.

The Russian Olive tree, meanwhile, can survive dry conditions and cold temperatures and will outgrow and crowd out our native species.

The Siberian Elm is a larger tree that will grow up to 18 metres tall. Its seed germination rate is very high, and seedlings will quickly establish along roadsides, grasslands and along waterways.

“These invasive trees were brought in from Eurasia, they spread rapidly, releasing toxic chemicals into the soil to deter other plant species,” said the report. “They all produce by seed, by division and can sprout nearly anywhere. They are tolerant to a wide range of environmental conditions and have no disease problems.”

The RDCO board is being asked to amend its noxious weed and pest bylaws to allow bylaw officers to issue orders requiring their removal. The issue will be discussed at Thursday morning’s regular meeting.

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