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Chinese New Year Custom Could Spread Dangerous Citrus Pest

Jan. 21, 2011 – Giving oranges or tangerines as gifts to friends and relatives as a symbol of good wishes is a celebratory custom of the Chinese New Year, but it could have dire consequences – the gesture could spread the disease-carrying Asian citrus psyllid.

The Asian citrus psyllid – which is confirmed to be in Imperial, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, sparking a quarantine in those areas – can be the carrier of a fatal tree disease, called Huanglongbing, also known as HLB or citrus greening disease. While not harmful to human health, HLB destroys production, appearance and value of citrus trees, and the taste of their fruit and juice. Once a tree is infected with the disease, there is no cure and the tree will eventually die.

While the psyllids in California have not been found to be carrying the disease, the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program is reminding those celebrating the Chinese New Year that we all play a critical role in keeping the disease out of California. The organization, which points out that it is illegal to bring citrus trees or cuttings into California from other states or countries, offers these tips:

  • If giving oranges or other citrus fruit as gifts, make sure there is no plant material such as leaves or stems attached to the fruit and the fruit is washed to make sure there are no psyllids on the gift.

  • Inspect your citrus trees each month for the pest. A hand lens or magnifying glass may be necessary to see the psyllid, which is the size of an aphid.

  • Plant only California-grown, certified trees that are known to be free of the disease.

  • Don’t move plants out of the quarantined area, because they might be carrying psyllids.

  • Dry out plant clippings for two weeks before putting them in green waste recycle bins or double bag clippings to avoid moving psyllids.

“This pest and disease are dangerous,” said Ted Batkin, president of the California Citrus Research Board and a participant in the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program. “If the disease infects a homeowner’s tree, that tree will need to be removed, and the best way to protect our citrus is to control the pest.”

The California Citrus Research Board is trapping for the pest and testing for the disease in California, augmenting the programs of the county agricultural commissioners, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture.

The majority of detections of the psyllids in Southern California trees have been in residential citrus trees.

For more information and to find out what to look for, visit www.CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org. If you think you have found a psyllid, act fast. Time is critical. Call the California Department of Food and Agriculture hotline at 800/491-1899.

The pest and the disease have already caused devastation in Asia, India, parts of the Middle East, and South and Central America. The pest and the disease have been found domestically in Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. In Florida, the psyllid and HLB are ravaging the citrus industry. The insect pest, in the absence of disease, is also found in Hawaii, Texas and California.

Katie Rowland
Nuffer Smith Tucker
619/296-0605, ext. 254

©Copyright 2016 Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program     www.CaliforniaCitrusThreat.org