It may only be the size of an aphid, but the Asian citrus psyllid spreads a fatal disease that has had a huge impact on Florida’s citrus industry. The disease has been discovered in Southern California, putting local citrus trees and the region’s citrus industry at risk.
There’s a lot at stake. Eighty percent of fresh market oranges come from California, according to California Citrus Mutual, a nonprofit trade association for the citrus industry.
Huanglongbing (HLB) is an incurable bacterial disease that kills Orange, Grapefruit, tangerine and other citrus trees. The Asian citrus psyllid lays its eggs on new growth, where small, yellowish orange nymphs feed and develop. The disease, also called “citrus greening” eventually kills the tree.
“HLB is a devastating disease,” said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. “It has laid waste to vast amounts of citrus production in Florida.”
Currently, there is no cure for HLB. Once the tree is infected, it eventually dies.
About 35 trees in the residential communities of San Gabriel, Hacienda Heights, and Cerritos were found to be infected and had to be destroyed. Fortunately the disease has not been discovered in any commercial production areas, according to Larson.
However, Larson and others are worried that the disease could get a foothold in San Diego County because so many people have a lemon, lime or orange tree in their backyards. If left unchecked, backyard citrus trees could become breeding grounds for the disease.
Larson says that San Diegans can play a critical role in saving local citrus. The best way to protect against the disease is to find the insect and stop it from spreading the disease.
Residents should regularly inspect their citrus trees for Asian citrus psyllids. Photos of the insect and the disease can be found at CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org.
“Controlling the pest is the best way to control movement of the disease,” said Larson. “There are some very good pictures online of what infected leaves and fruit look like.”
The disease won’t reach our community on its own. San Diegans need to be extra careful not to bring citrus plants, plant material or fruit in from other areas.
“It is critical that citrus trees or budding wood not be brought here from out of the state or from out of the country,” said Larson.
Larson also suggests that citrus trees that are in poor condition or are not being regularly cared for be removed by homeowners because they can become a host to the insect and serve as the point of infestation for a whole neighborhood.
Residents concerned about their trees can call the pest hotline at (800) 491-1899 for assistance.