Ficus Whitefly and Gumbo Limbo Spiraling Whitefly

A Serious Threat to South Florida Landscapes

Over the last few years two new pest problems have emerged in South Florida.  The Ficus or Fig Whitefly was the first to emerge and continues to be a serious threat to fichus hedges and trees that are left untreated.  In March of 2009 a larger whitefly was found on gumbo limbo trees in Miami-Dade County and has since spread to various areas of Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

The ficus whitefly can cause significant damage, and potentially kill, ficus hedges and banyan trees that are left untreated.  Although ficus appears to be the main host plant there has been reports of this whitefly attacking sea grape trees and azaleas as well.  It has been observed that the ficus whiteflies are at their most active in the late summer and early fall but they can strike at any time of year.

Treatment of Ficus

Petri uses a combination of both a root drenching, a topical liquid application, and  granular systemic insecticides to eliminate ficus whitefly.  The choice of application is based on the time of year.  For the ficus whitefly a full spraying of the plant is recommended for immediate control followed by either a drenching of the root base and/or an application of a granular systemic product applied to the root base to provide long lasting residual protection.  This treatment process can provide up to 6 months of protection and follow up treatments are recommended throughout the year.  It is very important that this treatment process begin either preventatively or soon after whiteflies or the damage they cause is noticed.  Once ficus hedge damage is too severe they may not fully recover.

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GRANULAR SYSTEMIC APPLICATION

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PARTIALLY DAMAGED FICUS

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FICUS WITH DAMAGE TO TOP

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SPRAY APPLICATION TO FICUS HEDGE

The gumbo limbo spiraling whitefly has a much broader range of host plants including g gumbo limbo, black olive, mango, Brazilian pepper, cocoplum, wax myrtle, live oak and a variety of palm trees including areca, coconut, date palms, and many more.

Much is still being learned about the gumbo limbo spiraling whitefly.  What is known is that the adult whiteflies are 3 to 10 times the size of other types of whitefly and move much slower.  Adults congregate on the underside of leaves to feed and reproduce.  The female lays her eggs in a spiral pattern on the leaves and also deposits a white, waxy substance on the eggs. The crawler stage that hatches from the eggs starts to fee with its needle-like mouthparts.  The crawler will molt and go through many stages. It is believed that it is the immature stages of this pest, and not the adults, that cause the most damage.

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WHITEFLY ON UNDERSIDE OF PALM LEAFLET
-Photo courtesy of UF IFAS Miami- Dade Extension Center

Damage to Plants:  The fichus whitefly typically feed on the underside of leaves and use their needle-like mouthparts to pierce the plant and suck juices from them causing wilting, yellowing, stunting, leaf drop, and in extreme cases death.  The gumbo limbo spiraling whitefly’s most noticeable symptoms are the white, waxy material that covers the leaves, the tremendous amount of “honeydew” that is produced, and the black sooty mold growth that sticks to the honeydew.  Although the actual effects on plants are still being learned it is a fact that plant decline, defoliation and branch dieback can certainly result if left untreated.

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EGGS ARE LAID IN SPIRALS
Photo courtesy of UF IFAS Miami Dade Extension Center

Treatment:    

Treatment will vary based on the species of whitefly, the type and size of plant that is infested and the level of infestation.  Monitoring plants for early signs of infestation and looking at nearby trees as well for signs of infestation are important first steps in controlling whitefly.  Being aware of natural parasites and enemies of whitefly is also important so they are not killed while in the process of controlling the whitefly.
Petri uses a combination of liquid and granular systemic insecticides to eliminate fichus whitefly.  For the ficus whitefly a full spraying of the plant is recommended for immediate control followed by an application of a drench and/or granular systemic product applied to the root base to provide long lasting residual protection.  This treatment process can provide up to 6 months of protection and follow up treatment is recommended throughout the year.  It is very important that this treatment process begin either preventatively or soon after whiteflies or the damage they cause is noticed.  Once ficus hedge damage is too severe they may not fully recover.

The gumbo-limbo whitefly treatment also involves monitoring the many varieties of plant life susceptible to this species of whitefly. Drenching of the soil at the root base with a systemic insecticide has been found to be the most effective long term treatment.  This method can take time to see results as it requires the product to be taken up through the tree’s root system which means the product may not reach the top of large trees for 30 – 60 days. Different products must also be used depending on the plant species and level of infestation.  Even with an effective treatment the white waxy material and the black sooty mold will remain until new growth emerges.

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SPRAY APPLICATION TO LARGE FICUS HEDGE

Please call Petri today at 954-781-4100 for further information or for a free quote on treating your fichus hedges or trees.

Source - UF IFAS Miami Dade Extension Center Article