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Deadly citrus disease found on hybrid fruit tree in Hacienda Heights

March 30, 2012 |  7:29 pm

Fruitbug

A deadly citrus disease carried by jumping plant lice has spread to California, posing risks to the state's $2-billion citrus industry and the backyard trees of suburbanites, state officials said Friday.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials had been testing for the disease over the last week and confirmed they found it in a lemon-grapefruit hybrid tree in Hacienda Heights.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reported that the disease known as citrus greening --  or by its Chinese name, huanlongbing -- has been menacing major fruit-growing areas across the South and in Brazil, but had not previously been detected in trees in California, although the psyllids that carry it were known to have crossed over from Mexico four years ago.

The blight has cost Florida an estimated $3.6 billion since the disease was discovered there in 2005, California officials said. It first struck China's citrus trees a century ago.

In a dispatch from Texas, the Associated Press reported that a plant specialist at Texas A&M's Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center has discovered that spinach might be effective in fighting the spread of citrus greening and plans a pilot project in Florida next month to test his theory.

Dozens of young sweet orange and grapefruit trees will be planted near Lake Okeechobee in South Florida to see how they fare in a commercial citrus grove when treated with bacteria-fighting proteins from spinach, said the scientist, Erik Mirkov.

"Some of these growers in Florida, they say, 'If you can't have something for us in five years, if you tell me it's going to take eight, we're dead,' " Mirkov said.

Agriculture specialists in California have been working for years to protect citrus trees from the disease-carrying psyllids and will now have to see if their prophylactic measures are effective, said Joel Nelson of California Citrus Mutual.

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-- Carol J. Williams

Photo: In this Jan. 24 photo, citrus entomologist Mamoudou Setamou, center, walks through a grove where citrus greening has been found near San Juan, Texas.

Credit: Associated Press

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