Friday, January 1, 2010

Importing Pests

Being an Arizona native and with parents that loved to travel we spent a lot of time on the road.  Coming back to the state at some point you had to stop at the Agriculture check station where the inspector asked if you were carrying any fruits or vegetables.  Most of the time Dad said no and we all knew about the oranges, grapefruit, apples or other fruit in the bag under the seat.  The inspector would send us on our way with "CONTRABAND APPLES".  Wow, illegal apples.  It impressed us for a while.  Unbeknownst to us we could have been carrying the next plague into Arizona.  We just thought it was a bit silly.  But simple uninformed actions can transform the world.

A number of non-native pests have transformed our landscapes and costs us a fortune.  Here’s a short list:

Formosan termites, also dubbed the super termite:  This creature is so voracious it can destroy the support structure of a house in months.  In New Orleans it has caused extreme devastation. They can chew through electrical cable!  It came into the US on wood products from Formosa after WWII.

Dutch Elm Disease transformed eastern forests and urban landscapes destroying nearly every elm tree in America.  While horticulturist and scientists have made some headway in developing a resistant tree, the great elms of America are gone.  The disease came in on logs from France.

Emerald Ash borer is in the process of destroying ash trees as the Dutch Elm did the elms.  It is a recent arrival apparently coming in on an overseas shipping container. 

Medfly is one of the world’s most destructive pests and the US is desperately trying to prevent it from taking hold in America.  About the size of a small housefly it can easily be brought into this country in fruit.  The fly deposits its eggs under the skin of fruit and can’t always be recognized by the traveler. In the United States, the Medfly could attack peaches, pears, plums, apples, apricots, avocados, citrus, cherries, figs, grapes, guavas, kumquats, loquats, nectarines, peppers, persimmons, tomatoes, and several nuts.  It has been found in California but so far the US has been lucky.

Travelers bringing dogs into the country brought cattle screwworm into Florida.

In 2003 bags of pine cones from India being sold in craft and chain stores were recalled when they discovered wood-boring insects in them.

It isn’t just plants though, its animals also.  Did you know that the Everglades are now home to a large population of pythons and other tropical snakes?  Originally released or escaped snakes now breed there. The English sparrow that dominates most urban bird feeders was imported because they apparently reminded some people of home.

Just a short list of why when you come into this country you may get asked about plants or food you may be carrying.  Do us all a favor and follow the rules!  Oh!  and those agriculture stations in Arizona—they have all been closed for budgetary reasons.

Below is a new alert by the US Department of Agriculture.

Gardeners: This holiday season, spread peace, love and joy. Not citrus deadly greening disease.   A message from the USDA

During the holidays, people buy and send more citrus plants than any other time of the year. Whether someone is buying citrus plants online or giving a citrus plant as a gift, they could be spreading citrus greening disease. This deadly bacterial plant disease is spread by a disease-infected insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, and has destroyed millions of acres of citrus plants around the world. Since there is no cure, the best way to protect our citrus is to not move citrus plants or plant materials.

Inform others about the dangers of moving citrus.

As a gardener, people respect your expertise on plants. Help spread the word about citrus greening disease. Let people know:

                        Many areas of the Southeast are under quarantine for citrus greening disease and Asian citrus psyllids. It is illegal to move live citrus plants, plant parts, budwood, or cuttings from these areas.

                        Many other areas are under quarantine for Asian citrus psyllids. Get a complete list of quarantined areas for both the disease and the psyllid.

                        Citrus greening is only one of many diseases threatening our citrus. By not moving citrus, you help stop the spread of all these deadly disease.

                        Citrus plants and plant materials include curry leaves, jasmine flowers, and the citrus leaves on wreaths and in potpourri.

Spread the word — don’t move citrus.

The safest approach is to simply not move citrus plants, ship citrus plants, or buy citrus plants of an unknown origin. If you or someone you know owns citrus plants, make sure they are inspected regularly for signs and symptoms of the disease and psyllids.

For more information from the USDA on citrus greening disease, visit