(Nov. 30) Entomologists and other scientists in California are hoping to stave off “huanglongbing,” an exotic bacterial disease better known as citrus greening.

Originally from Asia, the disease is already causing problems for citrus growers in Florida and parts of Central and South America, said Don Borges, supervising inspector for the Tulare County Agriculture Commissioner’s office. He said he’s not optimistic for his county, California’s No. 1 citrus producer.

“I’m afraid it’s inevitable that it’s going to get into California,” Borges said.

Beth Grafton-Cardwell, a member of the University of California at Riverside faculty and an integrated pest management specialist conducting research in Tulare County, said the pest that transmits the disease might already be in the state.

The insect, a psyllid about the size of an aphid, could have entered California on plant material, Grafton-Cardwell said. She said the pests survive on a wide range of plants and trees. Among them, she said, are ornamentals such as the murraya tree. She said scores of those trees were shipped from Florida to California before the western state initiated a ban.

“So it’s possible the insect is already in some California back yards,” Crafton-Cardwell said.

Grafton-Cardwell said the general public could play a key role in helping to detect the presence of the pest. Though it’s small, she said it’s relatively easy to recognize because it leaves sticky honey dew, just as aphids do, and causes leaves to curl.

Jay Van Rein, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said the state has been screening for the insect, along with other pests, since 1998. For the first time this year, he said the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded screening and research specifically for the psyllid.

So far, Van Rein said there have been no discoveries of the pest. But there’s still concern.

“This disease is at the top of the threat list for citrus,” Van Rein said.

If a citrus tree becomes infected with citrus greening, Grafton-Cardwell said new shoots are yellow and the fruit is small and bitter.

Once infected, there is no recovery; the tree must be pulled, bagged and buried in a landfill or burned if regulations permit.