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No Need To Panic Over Spiraling Whitefly Pest

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MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami-Dade County wants to get the word out about a new invasive and pesky insect that has become a threat to landscape plants but most importantly, experts say don’t overreact.

The Gumbo Limbo Spiraling Whitefly was first spotted in Miami-Dade County in March 2009 in the Miami Springs area, according to John McLaughlin, Home Garden Advisor for Miami-Dade County. But now, the insect has spread to areas such as Kendall, Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Hialeah, Westchester and many other parts of the county.

Experts say the pest will likely spread to other South Florida counties as well, but they urge people not to panic because this whitefly is different than the Ficus Whitefly that devastated so much of the County’s ficus hedges and ficus trees during the past several years.

The new whitefly is not expected to cause the massive defoliation that was seen with the Ficus Whitefly, but plants with heavy infestations may suffer some damage and leaf drop.

“It’s not good for trees but it looks a lot worse than it really is,” McLaughlin told CBS4.COM. He went on to explain that a lot of people want to cut infected trees down but that’s not what you should do.

“Cutting trees down requires a permit and can be expensive,” explained McLaughlin. But more importantly, if you cut the tree down or cut it back, the Whitefly infestation will actually spread when transporting the infected branches to the dump.

He said many trees do survive an infestation of the Gumbo Limbo Spiraling Whitefly and Miami-Dade County is working on possibly treating infected trees in public rights-of-way if the County originally planted the tree.

Homeowners can use Systemic insecticides which are applied to the soil of an infected tree. The Whiteflies are poisoned as they feed on the plant sap.

The Gumbo Limbo Spiraling Whitefly is believed to originate from Central America. It has a very broad host range.

Here’s a list of host plants:

* Gumbo Limbo
* Black Olive
* Copperleaf
* Broadleaf Arrowhead
* Cocoplum
* Brazilian Pepper
* Wax Myrtle
* Live Oak
* Mango

The Gumbo Limbo Spiraling Whitefly is noticeably larger than the fig whitefly. It lays its eggs in a distinctive spiral pattern on leaves and deposits a white waxy substance on top of them. Also, there is sticky honeydew and sooty mold that grows on it that can accumulate on plants, cars, pool decks and patio furniture from infested trees overhead. The adults congregate on the undersides of the leaves and move very slowly, unlike the fig whitefly, which will fly away at the slightest disturbance.

Early detection and intervention is key to managing this pest and saving your trees and plants.

So what is a Whitefly? They are small, winged insects that typically feed on the underside of leaves with “needle-like” mouthparts. Whiteflies can seriously injure host plants by sucking nutrients from the plant causing wilting, yellowing, stunting, leaf drop, or even death.

There are more than 75 different whiteflies reported in Florida.

For more information or to report the insect in your neighborhood, contact the UF/Miami-Dade County Extension office at (305) 248-3311.

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