Bugs and plants go together like snow-covered Alps and yodelers. When it comes to tea, though, those bugs can be friends or pests.
Oriental Beauty Oolong (also called White Tip Oolong, Bai Hao Oolong, Formosa Oolong) is supposed to owe its sweet flavor and fruity aroma (causing some to nickname this the “Champagne Oolong”) to tiny bites on the leaves by insects. Read more in our earlier article here.
Insect pests in tea gardens
Insects abound, with some being pests in terms of damaging a crop we humans are trying to grow and use and other being beneficial in that they go after those pests. One in the pest column is the Tea Seed Bug (aka the Tea Shield Bug). It’s about 16-10mm long and 10-14mm wide and quite colorful, and it feeds on tea seeds. The eggs are laid on the back of leaves and need to be plucked off before they hatch. The young bugs look similar to ladybugs, which are beneficial.
|Chinese rose beetle (screen capture from site)|
Another pest to be on the alert for is the Chinese rose beetle. Adult Chinese rose beetles are nocturnal and chew plant leaves. Recently transplanted and young plants appear to be most susceptible, although established plants may also be attacked. Serious defoliation can occur when pest numbers are high, and this may kill young plants. Only the adult stage of the insect will damage crops. They are attracted to other plants besides Camellia Sinensis.
Then there is the Mexican leafroller which includes tea plants among the leafy delights on its menu. This caterpillar rolls the young leaves at the shoot tips and lives and feeds within. Leaves from damaged shoots have holes and may be distorted. In tea, insect parts may contaminate the harvested product. In addition to damage in the field, this insect can be a pest of cuttings in the nursery.
There’s the Red and black flat mite that feeds on plant sap and causes bronzing and/or browning of the leaves. These mites favor the upper leaf surface of mature leaves, and the damage progresses from the lower leaves to the younger leaves. Young plants that are not yet fully established appear to be highly susceptible.
The list goes on. Here is a good resource that focuses mainly on those pests in Hawai’i, but these pests are elsewhere and pose a hazard to tea growers around the world.
Spiders are the first thing that come to mind here. You just have to be careful that they’re not the kind that are dangerous to humans. One report shows that in China about 65-90% of insect control is by using spiders. About 290 species, both the hunting and the nesting varieties, naturally control those tea pests. Each spider is said to consume from 20 to as many as 120 insects per day.
A biological product known as Bt (Bacillus thuriengiensis) is used as a natural regulating agent for different lepidopteran pests of tea. Some growers use different plants growing in among the tea plants to draw pests away from the tea plants.