Despite the seemingly endless rows of lavender on display at the height of summer in Provence all is not well in the world of lavender production.
|Healthy Lavender growing near Sault, Provence
The cause of the trouble is a miniscule little insect related to the cicada who goes by the name of Hyalesthes obsoletus although there is nothing oblsolete about it.
|Hyalesthes obsoletus © Michael F. Schönitzer
The insect, a sap sucking leaf hopper, has a particular fondness for the taste of lavender upon which it lays its eggs. The insect and its larvae eat the sap of the plant which in itself would cause no problems, if eating a bit of sap was all they did, but unfortunately they are also the carriers of a phytoplasma, a bacterium devoid of cell walls and therefor dependant on a host, in this case the sap of the lavender plant. The insect is referred to as a vector, who much like a mosquito, drinks the sap from the plants and in doing so becomes infected and so propagates the phytoplasma to other plants. The phytoplasma in question here is the Stolbur Phytoplasma which also affects potatoes, tomatoes, maize and vines. Once the phytoplasma is in the plant it inhibits growth and eventually the plant becomes too weak to be productive or dies.
So there, in short, you have the problem and the scale is huge. A noted rise in temperatures has also caused the proliferation of the insect and at this moment in time no effective solution has been found to eradicate it.
|Lavendin Plants affected by the Phytoplasma © CRIEPPAM
|Lavender Plants affected by the Phytoplasma © CRIEPPAM
The possible methods to tackle the problem are the following:
- Antibiotic treatment which would attack the bacteria directly, but their use on plants is forbidden in France to avoid the development of mutation and resistance which would only increase the problem.
- Chemical treatment in the form of pesticides would be almost impossible due to the fact that the larvae live under ground and the adults are present during the flowering season at the same time as honey bees. Also the use of pesticides is, from an ecological point of view, not possible even if it did work.
So attacking the phytoplasma or the insect is impossible. All that remains are ways to discourage the insect from laying its eggs on the lavender and the development of resistant strains of lavender who remain unaffected by the phytoplasma.
So far several varieties have been produced which are tolerant to the attacks but none are totally immune. The replacement of affected plants by these is taking place but it is not an end to the problem. Other experiments which use fine white clay sprayed on to the plants. This seems to discourage the insect who finds the white aspect unappealing.
Research is continuing all the time and research costs money, hence the creation of the foundation to save the lavender of Provence.
I myself am a member of the board and the only representative of the tourism industry. The president is Olivier Baussan the founder of L’Occitane en Provence. The other members are mostly lavender producers.
Through donations the foundation can continue its research into this major problem and as you can see is coming up with answers, but the solution to the problem is not in sight.
Kairos Travel has decided that as of 2014 every for small group lavender tour 100€ per guest would be donated to the Lavender Foundation, and for every lavender day tour or excursion 50€ would be donated. The donations can continue on of course and you can make a donation however big or small, by following this link: http://www.sauvegarde-lavandes-provence.org/souscription-don-fonds-dotation
The Foundation’s website is only in French for the moment, but the English version is being worked upon and should be online soon.
If you would like to learn more about lavender whilst in Provence (as well as relaxing in th L'Occitane Spa, cooking classes and much much more!) then join us on our "Provence The Lavender Season Tour" information can be found here : http://www.unique-provence.com/provence-luxury-guided-tours/provence-the-lavender-season
or alternatively you could opt for a day tour during the Lavender Season : http://www.unique-provence.com/guided-tours-of-provence/lavender-day-tour