BY MARCY SHORTUSE - While the leaves are changing and falling from the trees in northern locales, Gasparilla Island has a few of its own trees doing the same. It isn’t because of the arrival of fall, though. It’s because of the rugose spiraling whitefly.
The pest has been busy making its residence on the leaves of strangler figs and gumbo limbo trees on the island. On the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association Bike Path, it has also noticeably progressed since it was found in the last two weeks.
According to Misty Nichols, executive director of the GICIA, Rick Joyce, the organization’s vegetation consultant and certified arborist, has been out to look at the problem. It was determined that the best course of action is to start dosing the trees right away with a costly and toxic treatment.
“People with nearby properties have already started the treatements,” Nichols said. “We’ve been encouraged not to mess around with this. No final decisions have been made yet, but we’re getting all of our information together and are finding out how soon we can get everything moving. It’s a pretty big problem island-wide now. Our black olive and gumbo limbo trees have the biggest problems right now.”
The blight appears to be worse on the north end of the island. The Boca Grande Club has also started to treat their trees.
Jackie Sullivan of Statewide Pest Control explained how the whiteflies spread.
“Ms. Whitefly comes in, lays a batch of eggs on the underside of a leaf, dies a few days later,” he said. “The eggs hatch, the babies start sucking on the leaves. That exposes honeydew, the sticky stuff that gets all over everything. Ants love honeydew, so they come. There’s also sooty mold, which is on whitefly waste, that gets all over everything. It’s the black stuff you see.”
The whitefly can be identified by a spiraling white pattern on the leaves, as well as many dropped, withered leaves.
Healthy, large trees and palms should not die from the whitefly, but small, newly-planted plants could.
Jackie said there is nothing anyone can do, nor is anyone to blame for the problem.
“There is nothing anyone is doing to move it from place to place, it’s coming from Argentina and there’s nothing we can do about it right now,” Jackie said. “But we have to control it. If we don’t identify it and we don’t treat it correctly, we’ll never get rid of it.”
Some people eradicate the whitefly with Organocide (which is sesame and fish oil) and insecticidal soap. The plants must be washed three to four times a week for several weeks, and you must make sure to spray the underside of the leaves.
That method is fine for small plants or vegetation with very early stages of whitefly but for large trees or those infested with the pest, the next step is to contact a pest control company to have a systemic insecticide injected.
The insect is native to Central America, but has been found on Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island, as well as in Bonita Springs and Naples in the last three years. Whiteflies love gumbo limbo, black olive, Brazil beautyleaf trees, live oak (cocoplum and Cooperleaf), palm trees, mango trees, banana trees and coconut palms.
For more information call the Lee County Extension Office at (239) 533-7513 or Statewide Pest Control, 964-0888.
E-mail (required, but will not display)
Notify me of follow-up comments
Click for a larger view