By Jina Martin

As if the headaches from hurricanes and canker weren’t enough, there’s a new citrus disease in town.

Citrus greening, or huanglongbing, was found in the Homestead area on Aug. 24. “Huanglongbing” means “yellow dragon disease” in Chinese, which is indicative of the yellowing of the tree when it’s infected.

Since that initial discovery near Homestead, federal and state employees have found 102 trees as of Oct. 5 positive for greening on 86 properties, said Denise Feiber, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Positive trees were found in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Greening seriously affects citrus in India, Asia, Southeast Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, but the Florida discovery is the first in the United States. 

“In coordination with Florida, we have prepared for the possibility that this disease could one day reach the United States,” said Bill Hawks, USDA’s Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. “We will move swiftly to protect the U.S. citrus industry.”

Greening bacteria are primarily transmitted by an insect vector, the citrus psyllid. The citrus psyllid was first detected in Florida in 1998 and has since been detected throughout the state.

According to the FDACS-Division of Plant Industry, some of the best management programs are integrated and include the chemical and biological control of psyllid vectors. The programs also use regulatory measures to ensure completely clean planting stock, cultural practices and timely removal of infected plants.

Once trees are infected with citrus greening, there is no cure. Trees produce yellow shoots, and twig dieback and tree decline occur. Fruit is lopsided, with poor taste. The fruit will drop off before ripening and has poor color. Trees usually die within a few years.

“Citrus greening is a serious disease wherever it has been found,” said Ron Brlansky, professor at the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Citrus Research and Education Center.

Feiber said the FDACS, as well as the USDA, is looking at what the best proposed control program will be.

“This disease has so many challenges and so many unknowns,” she said.

Currently, the FDACS is getting waivers from the property owners with positive trees so that they can be removed. In addition, Miami-Dade and Broward counties are under quarantine. All ornamental citrus psyllid host plant material, in addition to all citrus, is quarantined and prohibited from movement out of the counties.

State and federal officials are continuing a comprehensive survey to identify the extent of disease spread.