October 12, 2011

Don't Spread the Love.

It's really tempting to bring back what you love when you visit places, and it's even more tempting to do this with plants and plant related items like fruit. However, you should never, ever do this.

Moving plants, plant parts, and fruits in and out from other countries and states allows the potential for the spread of diseases and insects that can damage previously unaffected crops in substantial ways. There are several examples of how these things have already happened, and several current cases in which officials are desperately trying to prevent the further spread of disease into currently unaffected states.

Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri
Citrus greening disease is one of the diseases on high alert. Originating in Asia, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Brazil, the disease was first found in Florida in 1998 on an ornamental landscaping plant related to citrus. It's hypothesized that it came to a backyard garden through tourism or importation of infected material, and from there further expanded throughout Florida. The disease is spread by little psyllids, who move freely across state and country lines, sharing the love with Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, and onwards.

Citrus greening disease prevents fruit from fulling ripening, as well as hindering the growth of the tree and causing eventual death and decline. Symptoms take a few years to show up, and at first mimic common nutrient deficiency symptoms - making detection even more difficult. Before symptoms even show up, psyllids can spread the disease to new trees and exacerbate the problem. If you have one diseased tree in your orchard, chances are that your entire orchard is infected and removal won't do anything. This disease is poorly understood, there are no control methods to prevent infection, and there is no cure once the disease is found. Furthermore, all citrus that we know and love comes from a limited genetic lineage - meaning that no natural resistance to the disease exist.

Would you eat this fruit?
California has a $1.8 billion citrus industry that could very well be brought to it's knees by this disease. California already has the psyllid to spread the disease, but not the disease - yet.

Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service
How is California trying prevent the spread of the disease? When you enter the state, you pass through agricultural check points looking for specific incoming items that are not certified to pass through. Items in question can be moved across state and country lines if they're inspected and treated by specific government workers. At my place of work, we share dormant cuttings across the country and world - and each and every cutting is inspected to ensure we're not spreading diseases and insects of concern. Right now, no grape material is allowed into New York and no walnut material can leave California because of pest concerns. Our tax dollars pay for this government service to try to protect our agricultural industries through APHIS, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

What can you do about this? Don't try to bring plant material and plant related items across state lines. If you really want to, then make sure it's okay and don't lie about it to officials. These rules and regulations are in place for a reason - whole lists of invasive and devastating pests and diseases were accidently brought in by unsuspecting people who 'just wanted to grow this plant at home' or 'share this fruit with friends.' It only takes one or two pests to cause an uncontrollable epidemic.

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